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Why do people say, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes?

There are varying accounts as to the origin of this response. One belief is that it originated in Rome when the bubonic plague was raging through Europe. One of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing, and it is believed that Pope Gregory VII suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed in hopes that this prayer would protect them from an otherwise certain death.

The expression may have also originated from superstition. Some people believe that the custom of asking for God’s blessing began when ancient man thought that the soul was in the form of air and resided in the body’s head. A sneeze, therefore, might accidentally expel the spirit from the body unless God blessed you and prevented this from occurring.  Some ancient cultures also thought that sneezing forced evil spirits out of the body endangering others because these spirits might now enter their bodies. The blessing was bestowed to protect both the person sneezed and others around him.

Extra Facts:

  • Between 18 and 35% of the population sneezes when exposed to sudden bright light.
  • Some people sneeze when plucking their eyebrows because the nerve endings in the face are irritated and then fire an impulse that reaches the nasal nerve.