The Inevitable "God Bless You"
Even in a silent room amongst strangers, if someone were to sneeze, more than likely, if not yourself, someone would say “God bless you” or some other variation of the phrase. Unless its a room full of Moms, then you might here "cover your mouth", "I told you that you should have worn a sweater", or the ever popular "good I hope you are happy, now you probably have pneumonia, going out last night in the damp without your rubbers!" You might even get backhanded if you were the one who sneezed and didn't cover your mouth.
For most people it is something they do without even thinking, like farting. Most people don’t even know why they say it. Well for those people, at long last here is blessed blessed relief, in blogger form. I'm here to tell you, the phrase does have a history, but most commonly known are the myths (sorry, I have a bit of a lisp).
Next time you sneeze and someone says, “God bless you,” ask him or her why they said it. Don't be a smart ass about it or you might get that asswhuppin' you so richly deserve, just ask them like a normal person would. Role play for a moment. More than likely they will tell you it is because when you sneeze your heart stops, your soul might escape, you are expelling a demon, or because the devil might get in. Which is ridiculous, every sane person knows he enters through your rectum. Resist the urge to laugh in their face for just a second.
The truth is that its not socially acceptable to say "God Damn you!" even after you've spewed mucus all over the room, so most people say "God bless you" or a foreign equivalent, like "Gezundheit" or "Dontgitanyonye" instead. It sounds silly, but many people truly believe these ideas. You have to realize in the 60's paint still had a lot of lead in it.
Here's the straight dope from the horse's mouth: a person’s heart does not stop beating when they sneeze (although your sphincter does contract, playing into the devil through the rectum theory), but people will say, “God bless you,” because they are either happy your heart started back up, or because they actually think the blessing will get your heart starting again, or they are some kind of religious fanatic who drags God into every fucking aspect of our lives, even sneezing. They might even give you a pamphlet.
Other people believe that a sneeze is a sign of your soul trying to escape, so by blessing you, they are either protecting your soul from the devil until it is able to reenter your body, or just basically restricting it from leaving your body. Your soul is scared shitless of God, so when you invoke his holy name your soul recoils in horror back into your esophagus, down to your pancreas (that's where your soul resides, according to the Bible, or a gum wrapper I read one time, I forget which).
Your soul knows God might someday strike down with furious anger and great vengeance and send it to the fiery furnace of Hades for all eternity. Now, you might bullshit your friends about some of the sick shit you've pulled in your life, but your soul knows the truth and knows God can get really cranky and apolcalyptic about all that evilness making your soul as black as a "Living Color" reunion without Jim Carrey so a little "God bless you" will suck it right back inside, safe and sound.
Some people don’t believe it is your soul trying to escape, but they believe a sneeze is your body getting rid of a demon. Now if you've seen the Exorcist, you'd know that traditionally a possesed person will puke a demon out or spin their head around until he gets dizzy and falls out your mouth, but some people don't know that common fact, if you can believe that in this day and age. By saying the blessing, they are protecting you from the demon as it tries to reenter your body. Coinciding with that myth is the idea that the devil himself can enter your body through a sneeze, and saying, “God bless you,” will ward him off. Like the devil is some kind of wuss or something. You don't get to be the epitome of terror and focus of all evil by running off screaming like a 6 month old baby girl when someone says "God bless you." That's superstitious nonsense. You at least have to say an incantation or something.
The scientifically proven fact is, and you can check this out, the Prince of all Evil who treads the Dark Empire through the entrails of sinners and the molten pyres of skulls paving the road of Eternal Perdition doesn't scare that easily. I mean, this is the guy who invented Karaoke, Madonna and Joe Millionaire, so he's seen the Ultimate Evil and God's Blessing doesn't really faze him. This guy has faced Adam Sandler try to act in Punch Drunk Love. He's a bad motherfucker and if he wants in your mouth, he's coming in. He'll enter your bladder, your lungs and your inner child's anus if he wants to and you ain't stoppin' him. Now to some of you godless pagan unbelievers, all these myths seem a little ridiculous, they all seem to stem from a common history of idiocy.
Sneeze related blessings can be found in writings as old as 77 A.D. (before CD's, way back when vinyl was still in wide use) (source: Mikkelson), but most commonly the origin seems to be related to plagues. In Roman times, sneezing was thought to be one of the first symptoms of the plague (source: Ikkelson), so the blessing was said in hopes that the person would not have the plague and eventually die. The sad truth was everyone eventually did get the plague, and correct me if I'm wrong here, every one of those people from Roman times is now DEAD!!! Tell me that's just a coincidence.(source: me)
But since everyone who got the plague DID die, this was pretty much like saying "God bless you, can I have your hut and your daughter when your body parts start to fall off?" The traditional response to this jinxing by blessing you was "Fuck you" which over the years became corrupted to "Thank you" (source: P. Reubens) and then "Thank you thank you, thank you very much" (source: Elvis).
In the Bible, it is said that Jacob made a deal with God where a prayer per sneeze would keep the Grim Reaper away because back then, sneezing meant certain death (source: Anonymous). God was always making hilarious deals like that with people back then because they would believe anything. "Watch this" God would tell Buddah or some other celestial being, "I got these people saying 'God bless you' ever time they sneeze now! Its funnier than the fasting or genuflecting and the other goofy shit I got them doing to ward off evil spirits!" and God and Buddah would enjoy a good laugh and go off to hurl fireballs across the firmament.
During the sixth century plague in Italy, Pope Gregory the Great insisted that prayers such as, “God Bless you,” be said in response to the deadly sneeze (source: some guy). Pope Gregory also used to give out penances like "wear your underwear on the outside of your clothing for a month" and canonize monkeys and cats as Saints and dress them up and have tea parties with them, so historians have pretty much concluded he was pretty much crazy as a shithouse rat.
During the Bubonic Plague, one symptom of the plague was fits of sneezing closely followed by death (source: this one girl). Death was considered the most severe symptom but it was seen as a hopeful sign that the disease had run its course and the fever would break that day. On the down side, there were so many people dying and not enough priests to give the last rites, so the common people were given the authority to administer a final blessing.
After that, if anyone was to sneeze, they were immediately given a blessing just in case death was near, and then if they didn't die right away they were beheaded so the blessing was not wasted. That way they wouldn’t die without the final sacrament (source: unfounded rumor). So now we understand why people used to say it, but why is it still said today? Huh? Riddle me that Batman!
Ok I'll tell you why, Brainiac.
We know that a sneeze isn’t always a symptom of death, and some people even consider a sneeze to be a good omen, like a shower of germ-laden mucus is a good thing. So why do we still feel the need to bless each other when we sneeze? At a young age almost all of us (except those born in the last 20-30 years, or New Yorkers) are taught manners, one of which is to say, “God bless you,” to a person after they sneeze, but we are never taught an explanation as to why this action is considered the polite thing to do. For that matter I don't know how any of this etiquette stuff got started. I think it had something to do with forks.
Of course when I was a kid if I asked for an explanation I'd get "Because I'm your Mother and I say so!" and if you continued your sass you'd be taken to the 'washroom' where your genitals would be scrubbed with steel wool and strong lye soap and scalding water because we are a sinful, dirty, filthy little girl and we must be cleaned! We must be cleansed of our sinfulness!!
But I digress.
We are told to do it, so we do, and it usually isn’t until later in life, long after Mother is dead and walled up in the basement, when we might ask someone why we say it aside from it just being the polite thing to do. More than likely the answer given is one of the myths. When you ask that person that said, “God bless you,” to you why they said it, then ask them if they even believe the explanation they gave you. That's a really cool way to make someone look stupid!! Then ask them who the fuck cut their hair and if they actually think that looks good.
In the present day, with no plagues to fear, the common blessing immediately following a sneeze has lost all its original meaning and has taken on a new one. It is nothing more than something to say just to be polite. So its just another of the empty, meaningless things we say and do to one another in lieu of true kindness and consideration. This helps people feel less guilty about not giving a shit about anyone but themselves, so it does fulfill a real need in our society. Instead of saying "God bless you" you might as well say what you mean and say "Hey fuck you, I hope you die" but that wouldn't be considered "polite" by the stuck up stickybeaks who are in charge of "manners", who dole out "accepted behavior" and dictate the use of "quotation marks".
But just remember, that's what they really mean when they say it. I hope this has cleared up this little mystery for you.
See you next week and God bless you!