all, we have no such custom for people when they cough or hiccup. In ancient times,
it was believed that the soul left your body when you sneezed and that evil spirits
could then enter. Blessing you was supposed to prevent this. Pope Gregory the
Great (540-604 AD) ascended to the Papacy just in time for the start of the plague.
Gregory (who also invented the Gregorian chant) called for litanies, processions
and unceasing prayer for intercession. Columns marched through the streets chanting,
"Kyrie Eleison" (Greek for "Lord have mercy"). When someone
sneezed, they were immediately blessed in the hope that they would not subsequently
develop the plague. All that prayer apparently worked, judging by how quickly
the plague of 590 AD diminished.
connection of sneezing to the plague is not the first association of sneezing
with death. In the Dark Ages, it was believed that your heart stopped momentarily
when you sneezed. You were, in effect, dead for an instant and had to be blessed.
Many cultures, even some in Europe, believe that sneezing expels the soul
the "breath of life" from the body. That doesn't seem too far-fetched
when you realize that sneezing can send tiny particles speeding out of your nose
at up to 100 miles per hour!
explanations are based on superstitions and urban legends about sneezing and what
a sneeze entails. Some well known superstitions that may have contributed to bringing
"bless you" into common use are:
belief that the heart stops when you sneeze, and the phrase "bless you"
is meant to ensure the return of life or to encourage your heart to continue beating.
(Of course, the heart beats because of electrical pulses that are not affected
by normal functions like sneezing.)
soul can be thrown from your body when you sneeze, and saying "bless you"
prevents your soul from being stolen by Satan or some evil spirit. Thus, "bless
you" or "God bless you" is used as a sort of shield against evil.
sneeze is good luck and saying "bless you" is no more than recognition
of the sneezer's luckiness. Alternatively, it may be possible that the phrase
began simply as a response for an event that wasn't well understood at the time.
urban legend states that you cannot open your eyes while you sneeze, or if you
manage to your eyes will pop out. During a sneeze the impulses travel through
your face causing your eyelids to blink, this response is entirely automatic.
folklore in Italy says that a cat sneezing is
supposed to be a good omen for everyone who hears it. Other superstitions say
that a cat sneezing once means there will be rain; if a cat sneezes three times,
the family will catch a cold; and a sneezing cat is a sign of future wealth.
know today, of course, that when you sneeze, your heart doesn't stop, nor does
your soul get expelled, nor will your eyes pop out if you could keep them open.
Also, it's just about impossible to hold your eyelids open while you sneeze. They
snap shut by reflex. The nerves serving the eyes and the nose are closely intertwined,
and stimuli to the one often trigger some response in the other.
many English-speaking countries, the German equivalent, gesundheit (which
means "good health"), is used after sneezing or coughing. Gesundheit
is also used in Australia. It was imported to South Australia through the Evangelical
Lutheran refugees who fled the established Lutheran church in the east of Germany.
These Silesian immigrants spoke their own language until the two World Wars caused
a dramatic decline in the use of German in Australia. Gesundheit was used
until recent times by the majority English speaking population. Its usage seems
now to have declined. The
expression is also found in Jewish custom. Although not technically part of Jewish
Law (Halacha), the custom of saying gesundheit, tzu gezunt, labree'ut,
or God bless you is considered a mannerly custom. It is written in the
Talmud that the patriarch Jacob was the first person to become ill before passing
on. Before that, people would sneeze and die. When God infused the soul into Man,
He "blew it" into Adam's nostrils. Thus, when it came time for the soul
to be returned to its Maker, it would leave through the same portal it arrived.
days, one says "Bless you!" because it is expected, not out of concern
for the wellbeing of the sneezer's soul or a need to disassociate oneself from
the dying. During a multiple sneeze episode, bless once after the first sneeze
and once after the last. Blessing each time gets tiring. In
the final analysis, it may not be as much about souls leaping out or demons clawing
to get in as it is about simple human acknowledgment of another's presence.
FROM NPR.ORG: Why the Sun Makes Noses Go Ah, Ah, Ah ...choo
is it that one sneezes more after one has looked at the sun?" he Aristotle
asked in Problems, Book XXXIII, in a section called Problems of the Nose."Is
it because the sun engenders heat and so causes movement, just as does tickling
the nose with a feather?"
Aristotle, you're sneezing up the wrong tree. A sneeze provoked by sudden exposure
to intense light is known as the photic sneeze reflex -- or, more whimsically,
ACHOO (for Autosomal-dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst). It occurs
in about a quarter of the population, according to researchers at the University
of Texas. And it has nothing to do with the heat of the sun.
reflex is probably the result of a malfunction in the fifth cranial nerve, called
the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for facial sensation
and such motor functions as biting, swallowing and, yes, sneezing. Scientists
believe that in some people, the trigeminal nerve is linked to the optic nerve,
which transmits visual impulses to the brain. So when someone with ACHOO syndrome
sees bright light, their optic nerve is overstimulated, triggering the trigeminal
nerve. Ergo: achoo! Researchers say some people can also sneeze when they suddenly
breathe in cold air or eat strong mints, like Altoids. These sensations likely
overstimulate other nerves close to the trigeminal nerve, launching the sneeze.
why doesn't the family that sees together sneeze together? ACHOO syndrome is passed
along genetically, as an "autosomal dominant trait." This means only
one parent has to have a set of ACHOO genes pass on the trait. In your case, Mr.
Bolduc, you probably have one set of DNA with the genes for ACHOO and one sneezeless
set of DNA. Each of your children had a 50 percent chance of inheriting this trait
from you. In your family's case, genetic inheritance worked just as expected:
two kids, and exactly 50 percent of them sneeze when they look at the sun.