I read an article today about a teacher in California who takes points off exam scores because the students say 'God Bless You' after someone sneezes. I will not comment on what the teacher did as there is not enough information on the incident to make a judgement. But it did make me wonder about the use of 'God Bless You' after a sneeze. Almost all of us say it and it is almost an involuntary response to to a sneeze.
I have also noticed that it crosses religious lines as I have heard Christians, Jews, Muslims and even an Atheist say it. My curiosity was peaked.
I found some interesting information at http://www.snopes.com. Internet resources are abundant on almost ant subject.
The claim is that the origin of saying 'God Bless You' when someone sneezes stems from an ancient desire to safeguard the sneezers soul or to commend the dying to the mercy of God; according to Scopes.com.
An Associated Content Article by Yahoo states; 'The practice or tradition of blessing a sneeze dates back to 77AD. The custom originally began as an actual blessing by Pope Gregory in 590AD. An outbreak of the bubonic plague was closing in on Rome and sneezing was thought to be an early symptom. Saying "God Bless You" was thought to be a common halt to the disease.'
'Another explanation behind saying "God Bless You" when someone sneezes, is that legend has it that your heart stops every time you sneeze. Saying "God Bless You" was supposed to ensure that you would continue living and your heart would continue beating.'
'Another legend explaining the phrase "God Bless You" was that people believed that your soul could be thrown from your body when you sneeze. It was believed that sneezing opened up your body to invasion by the devil or evil spirits. Another thought was that sneezing was the bodies' effort to force out invading evil spirits'
'Lastly, many people used to believe that sneezing was a sign that God would answer your prayers or that sneezing was an omen of good fortune or good luck. The phrase "God Bless You" was recognition of that luck.'
Many people, especially of German decent, say 'Gesundheit' after someone sneezes. 'Gesundheit' means 'Good Health' and carries less of a religious connotation.
From Wikipedia; 'There are different theories regarding the origin of this phrase. One idea is that the expression stems from the Middle Ages when the Bubonic Plague was threatening European health. In this case the person saying gesundheit was actually wishing good health upon themselves, since they may have been infected by the one who sneezed. During this time it was also commonly believed that sneezing made one's body vulnerable to evil spirits. Thus another plausible explanation is that gesundheit was a blessing to ward off demons while the sneezer's body was defenseless.
'Superstitions date back as early as Ancient Greece (ref. Herodotus, History 440 BC). The soul was thought to leave the body through the nose upon death, so a powerful sneeze was thus considered an ominous event.'
'The following is a Jewish perspective on the custom: Although not technically part of Jewish Law (Halacha), the custom of saying gezuntheit, tzu gezunt, labreeyut, 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.'
In the 'politically correct world' we now live in I am surprised someone has not been sued for using a religious term after a sneeze. In my opinion saying 'God Bless You' is a polite and appropriate thing to say. A courtesy, if you will, to a persons 'involuntary bodily event'.
I read somewhere that it would be nice if we had a saying to cover other ''involuntary bodily event'. Wishful thinking on my part.