God bless you
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God bless you (variants include God bless or bless you) is a common English expression, used to wish a person blessings in various situations, especially as a response to a sneeze, and also, when parting or writing a valediction.
The phrase has been used in the Hebrew Bible by Jews (cf. Numbers 6:24), and by Christians, since the time of the early Church as a benediction, as well as a means of bidding a person Godspeed. Many clergy, when blessing their congregants individually or corporately, use the phrase "God bless you".
National Geographic reports that during the plague of 590 AD, "Pope Gregory I ordered unceasing prayer for divine intercession. Part of his command was that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately ("God bless you"), since sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague." By 750 AD, it became customary to say "God bless you" as a response to one sneezing.
Origins and legends
The practice of blessing someone who sneezes, dating as far back as at least 77 AD, however, is far older than most specific explanations can account for. Gregory I became Pope in 590 AD as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing ("God bless you!") became a common effort to halt the disease.
Some have offered an explanation suggesting that people once held the folk belief that a person's soul could be thrown from their body when they sneezed, that sneezing otherwise opened the body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits, or that sneezing was the body's effort to force out an invading evil presence. In these cases, "God bless you" or "bless you" is used as a sort of shield against evil. The Irish Folk story "Master and Man" by Thomas Crofton Croker, collected by William Butler Yeats, describes this variation. Moreover, in the past some people may have thought that the heart stops beating during a sneeze, and that the phrase "God bless you" encourages the heart to continue beating.
In some cultures, sneezing is seen as a sign of good fortune or God's beneficence. As such, alternative responses to sneezing sometimes adopted by English speakers are the German word Gesundheit (meaning "health"), the Irish word sláinte (meaning "good health"), and the Spanish salud (also meaning "health").
- Jucker, Andreas H.; Taavitsainen, Irma (10 April 2008). Speech Acts in the History of English (in English). John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 171. ISBN 9789027291417. "God bless you has been attested as a leave-taking term since 1740 and can be today heard in the US as an explicit wish or blessing and as an implicit leave-taking term. Some also use the reduced variant of God bless."
- Alhujelan, Naser S. (2008). Worldviews of the Peoples of the Arabian Peninsula: A Study of Cultural System (in English). ProQuest. p. 369. ISBN 9780549703549. "The expression "May God bless you" includes blessing, meaning growth, happiness, and many other good things. It is often said by family and loved ones as a kind of prayer."
- Lewis, Roger (1997). The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (in English). Applause. p. 415. ISBN 9781557832481. "The letter ends with the solemn valediction 'God bless you.'"
- Everett, Isaac (1 May 2009). The Emergent Psalter (in English). Church Publishing, Inc. p. 132. ISBN 9780898696172. "The beginning of this psalm echoes the priestly benediction from Numbers 6: May God bless you and keep you."
- Wachspress, Amy (8 June 2012). Memories from Cherry Harvest (in English). Counterpoint LLC. p. 91. ISBN 9781593764890. "reciting the ancient Jewish benediction a parent gives to a child: "May God bless you and keep you and may God's countenance shine upon you and bring you peace.""
- Driscoll, Rev. Michael S.; Hilgartner, Rev. Msgr. Richard B.; Kelly, Maureen A.; Rev. John Thomas Lane, Rev. James Presta, Corinna Laughlin, Jim Schellman, D. Todd Williamson, Rev. Paul Turner, Catherine Combier-Donovan, Diana Macalintal, Sr. Genevieve (2012). The Liturgy Documents, Volume Two: Essential Documents for Parish Sacramental Rites and Other Liturgies (in English). Liturgy Training Publications. p. 439. ISBN 9781616710279. "Thus, the the [sic?] Book of Blessings, as in the Divine Office, while clergy may close with a true blessing ("May almighty God bless you."), laypersons can only request God's blessing ("May the Lord bless us.")"
- Patrick, Bethanne Kelly; Thompson, John Milliken (2009). An Uncommon History of Common Things (in English). National Geographic. p. 74. ISBN 9781426204203. "In Rome during the plague of 590, Pope Gregory I ordered unceasing prayer for divine intercession. Part of his command was that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately ("God bless you"), since sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague. Although the populace did not understand that the sneeze was the source of transmittal, they may have sensed it was connected to the disease. "God bless you" became a verbal totem invoking divine mercy on the sneezer."
- Whiting, Bartlett Jere (1977). Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (in English). Harvard University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9780674219816. "The year 750, is commonly reckoned the era of the custom of saying "God bless you," to one who happens to sneeze, etc."
- Snopes Urban Legends - Bless You!
- Ed Zotti, Editor. Why Do We Say "God Bless You" After a Sneeze?, Straight Dope, 27 September 2001.
- Madsci.org, Mad Scientist posting by Tom Wilson, M.D./PhD, Pathology, Div. of Molecular Oncology, Washington University School of Medicine
- Gutenberg.org, Project Gutenberg story by T. Crofton Croker, 1898.
- Re: Why does plucking my eyebrows make me sneeze?, MadSci Network posting by Robert West, Post-doc/Fellow, 1997-08-05