10 March 2016

God Bless You and the Sneeze

God bless you (also "God bless" or "Bless you")is a common English response to to a sneeze.

The phrase has been used, not for sneezes, in the Hebrew Bible by Jews (cf. Numbers 6:24), and by Christians, since the time of the early Church. Generally, it was meant as a benediction, as well as a means of bidding a person "Godspeed," an expression of good wishes or good luck to a departing person or a person beginning a journey.

During the plague of AD 590, Pope Gregory I ordered unceasing prayer for divine intercession. Part of his command was that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately by saying "God bless you." Sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague.

By 750, during a plague outbreak or not, it became customary to say "God bless you" as a response to one sneezing. It was once thought that sneezing was an omen of death, since many dying people fell into sneezing fits.

Not all sneezing had negative connotations. Later, the Hebrew Talmud called sneezing “pleasure sent from God.”  The Greeks and Romans believed that sneezing was a good omen and responded to sneezes with “Long may you live!” or “May you enjoy good health.” 

It is still seen as a sign of good fortune or God's beneficence in some cultures, as seen in the German word Gesundheit (meaning "health") sometimes adopted by English speakers, and the Irish word sláinte (meaning "good health"), the Spanish salud (also meaning "health") and the Hebrew laBri'ut (colloquial) or liVriut (classic) (both spelled: "לבריאות") (meaning "to health").

See also:  wikipedia.org/wiki/Responses_to_sneezing

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