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Bless you, Gesundheit, and God bless youPosted Friday, May 30, 2008, at 11:37 AM
This is the time of the year around here in southern Indiana that can be kind of miserable for those who suffer from allergies.
This is the time of the year when the pollen-laden air makes many of us do more than our share of sneezing.
A common response heard from a simple sneeze any time you are around people is "bless you."
Saying "bless you" when someone sneezes is a mannerly custom that most of our parents taught us to do when we were youngsters.
Hearing it recently from a polite co-worker following my own marathon sneeze blitz made me think. My inquisitive mind wondered where on earth the practice of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes actually came from.
I know, I should probably have my mind focused on more productive things like how to solve this gasoline price gouging we all are experiencing at the fuel pumps.
Or maybe, my brain energy might be better spent trying to figure out what to do about this "global warming" thing that our buddy Al Gore is taking to the bank with megabuck book deals and speaking gigs around the world.
Or possibly, I might be better able to serve the Greene County community by trying to figure out how to be a peacemaker for some of our contentious and often stormy county commissioners who have been verbally bashing it out in public in recent weeks like a bunch of spoiled babies.
Nonetheless, I did a little tracking down with the help of a few simple keystrokes on my computer and thanks to my Google search engine and have in part an explanation for the "bless you" phrase.
The origin of saying "bless you" when someone sneezes stems from an ancient desire to safeguard the sneezer's soul or to commend the dying to the mercy of God.
Snoops.com tells us that it's expected to hear "bless you!" or "God bless!" when someone nearby sneezes.
But does anyone really know why we do this?
Some questions, no matter how simple, don't really have a conclusive answer even though a number of "explanations" exist for this particular custom.
Common among these explanations, according to Snoops.com are:
* At one time people believed a man's soul could be inadvertently thrust from his body by an explosive sneeze, thus "bless you!" was a protective oath uttered to safeguard the temporarily expelled and vulnerable soul from being snatched up by Satan.
* Conversely, the sneeze itself is believed by some to be the expulsion of a demon or evil spirit which had taken up residence in a person.
* Others believe the heart momentarily stops during a sneeze -- it really doesn't -- thus the "bless you!" was uttered either as a supplication for life to return or as a congratulation upon its successful restart.
* Some claim an association of the practice with particular dire diseases -- most often the bubonic plague, or "Black Death," as it is sometimes known. They say an infected person's sneeze was sure sign of death, thus the "Bless you!" was intended as a benediction to the nearly-departed, a way of commending his soul to the care of God.
* Yet other folks echo the theme of other superstitions about sneezes, that these expulsions are either in themselves lucky or foretell good fortune coming the sneezer's way.
Interestingly, most people think "Gesundheit" is synonymous with the phrase "God Bless You."
The word Gesundheit, which is the German and Yiddish word for "health," probably dates back to the time of the Bubonic Plague, where sneezing was a symptom of the disease. The expression arrived in America with early German immigrants, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and probably passed into local English usage in areas with substantial German-speaking populations -- like many regions of southern Indiana.
Now you all know why we say "bless you" when the sneezers among us are inclined to bellow out a loud reverberating sneeze.
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