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Q: How widespread is the custom of saying "Bless you" when someone sneezes? ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: How widespread is the custom of saying "Bless you" when someone sneezes?
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: yellowlion-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 19 Aug 2005 12:51 PDT
Expires: 18 Sep 2005 12:51 PDT
Question ID: 557807
I should like to find out the geographical extent of the habit of
saying ?Bless you? (or the equivalent in other languages) when someone

I know that this custom exists and is still extant in France
(?Santé!?) and Germany (?Gesundheit!?). I also know that is does not
occur in Japan (because I asked a Japanese, who told me it would be
impolite to draw attention to such a ?weakness?!).

Rather than giving a list of countries in which the custom is extant
(which would be laborious), a list of cultures would be better and
easier (e.g: Africa, Middle East, Australasia, native America?), but
obviously the more detail, the better.

I hope that the answer to this question will give an idea of the
antiquity of the custom: the more widespread it is, the older it
should be.

Request for Question Clarification by justaskscott-ga on 19 Aug 2005 16:12 PDT
I haven't found a page with a list of cultures.  But have found lists
of sneeze responses in a few dozen languages, as well as explanations
of the custom's antiquity.  Would this information be a sufficient
Subject: Re: How widespread is the custom of saying "Bless you" when someone sneezes?
Answered By: webadept-ga on 19 Aug 2005 22:40 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
Culturally the belief that a sneeze is the expelling of evil spirits
or other signs that death is near comes from religious (specifically
Christian) influences rather than country or geographic regional

In many countries sneezing is seen as a necessary bodily function and
merely acknowledge the fact that you are living properly. India for
example has this view point, and respond to a sneeze by shouting
"Live!" wherein the sneezer is suppose to say in response to that,
"Live with you." Sneezing is seen in India as necessary, while the
inability to sneeze is labeled "asneezia" by Indian scientists
according to Psychology Today. Snuff has been used in India and
surrounding regions for centuries as a way of artificially inducing a
"healthy sneeze".

Some historic accounts show that sneezing is sometimes seen as a good
thing, a favorable sign from the gods. Xenophon, the Athenian general
for example was made a general and followed into battle against the
Persians because of a sneeze.

It might be good to note that in Hungry, God's Confirmation that a
statement someone is making is true is often based on the person
sneezing after making the statement.

Origins of the cultural beliefs among those of the Christian faith
come from the actions and directives of Popes and Saints, powerful
roll models to be sure. According to Ouen, the biographer and
companion of Saint Eligius, the Flanders ( pagans who were into
druidical practices) were warned that the Sneeze was  a distraction on
the road of salvation. The quote was something like ..

"Do not observe auguries or violent sneezing or pay attention to any
little birds singing along the road. If you are distracted on the road
or at any other work, make the sign of the cross and say your Sunday
prayers with faith and devotion and nothing inimical can hurt you."

Pope Gregory The First was the one most commonly given credit for the
"God Bless You" response to a sneeze. During the plague of 590 AD
Gregory ordered unceasing prayer for God's intercession. Anyone
sneezing at that time was immediately blessed ("God bless you") to
combat the possibility of the person developing the plague.

Muslims also culturally see sneezing as something which is a sign of
possible danger. "Alhamdulillah" is their typical response to someone
sneezing, thanking God for keeping him alive and save after the

The differences in the cultural responses to the act of sneezing could
be originated from the beliefs and physical aspects of the sneeze
itself. Western beliefs that the soul is the breath could have a great
deal to do with the danger seen is such a violent involuntary
explosion of breath propelling out of the body at greater than 100
miles an hour. However, the bright lights and even orgasms experienced
by some people could produce the thinking that a good sneeze isn't all
that bad every once in a while.

Also there is Photic Sneeze Reflex,  a medical condition that causes
people to involuntarily sneeze when exposed to bright light. Since
light is often seen as the symbol of God or God's presence, it could
be thought that a sneeze was the response to such a presence.


The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction

Bondi Sneeze

Nothing to Sneeze At


Why do we sneeze when we look at the sun

Why does bright light cause some people to sneeze?

Photic Sneeze reflex



Xenophon +Sneeze

sneeze evil spirits "bless you"



Request for Answer Clarification by yellowlion-ga on 20 Aug 2005 01:52 PDT
Thank you very much. Your answer still does not give much idea of the
geographical extent to which this custom reaches. My aim was to get
some idea of the antiquity of it.

Your research reveals that it goes back to at least antique (ancient
Greek) times; but a *current* geographical distribution of the custom
would give an idea of its origins before that, going right back into
pre-history. The fact that it is extant in India (I regard their
reaction as being part of the pattern) almost certainly demonstrates
the practice as being pre-historic. But just how far does the custom
go? Mongolia? South east Asia? Sub-Saharan Africa?

Your proposal that it stems from "religious (specifically Chriatian)
influences rather than country or geographical regional influences"
does not seem to concord with the fact that the cusom is extant in
India and Islamic countries.

I think your answer has too much accent on the mechanics of sneezing
and the medical reasons for it. If you can enlarge on the geographical
distribution as I describe the question, I should be happy to give you
a $10 tip!

With many thanks
yellowlion-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars
Although webadept made a fair effort, I was a little disappointed that
I did not get what I was looking for. There was too much accent on the
mechanics of sneezing and the history of the 'bless-you' custom,
rather than the geographical distribution. I tried to bribe(!)
webadept to look further, but he/she did not take the bait,

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