God bless you

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God bless you (variants include God bless or bless you[1]) is a common English expression generally used to wish a person blessings in various situations,[1][2] especially as a response to a sneeze, and also, when parting or writing a valediction.[1][3] 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.[4][5] Many clergy, when blessing their congregants individually or as a group, use the phrase "God bless you".[6]

Origins and legends[edit]

National Geographic reports that during the Roman 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."[7] By CE 750, it became customary to say "God bless you" as a response to one sneezing.[8]

The practice of blessing someone who sneezes dates as far back as at least CE 77 in the West when Pliny asks:

Why is it that we salute a person when he sneezes, an observation which Tiberius Caesar, they say, the most unsociable of men, as we all know, used to exact, when riding in his chariot even?

Although it is far older than most specific explanations can account for,[9] with non-theistic well-wishing going as far back as 500 BCE on the Indian subcontinent.[10] 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,[9] that sneezing otherwise opened the body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits,[11][12] or that sneezing was the body's effort to force out an invading evil presence.[9] In these cases, "God bless you" or "bless you" is used as a sort of shield against evil.[13] The Irish Folk story "Master and Man" by Thomas Crofton Croker, collected by William Butler Yeats, describes this variation.[14] 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.[9][11][12]

In some cultures, sneezing is seen as a sign of good fortune or God's beneficence.[9][15] As such, alternative responses to sneezing are the French phrase à vos souhaits (meaning "to your wishes"), the German word Gesundheit (meaning "health") sometimes adopted by English speakers, the Irish word sláinte (meaning "good health"), the Italian salute (also meaning "health"), the Spanish salud (also meaning "health"), the Hebrew laBri'ut (colloquial) or liVriut (classic) (both spelled: "לבריאות") (meaning "to health"), the Arabic saha (spelled "صحة", also meaning "health"), the Russian bud' zdorov (spelled: "будь здоров", meaning "be healthy").

In Islam the prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims who sneezes to say "الحمد لله" meaning “Thanks to Allah”, and whoever hears them say that should reply "يرحمكم الله" meaning “may Allah have mercy on you“, and the person who sneezed should reply "يهديك الله ويصلح بالك" meaning “May Allah Guide you to the right path and calm your mind”, and for repeated sneezes, they keep replying the same reply for a maximum of three times, by then the reply is changed to "عافاك الله" meaning “May Allah heal you“ and the replies stop. This act in Islam is called "تشميت العاطس".

In Persian culture, the response to sneezing is "Afiat Basheh". More often in the old days and out of superstitious nature, sneezing sometimes has been called "sabr =صبر," meaning "to wait or be patient." And when trying to do something or go somewhere and suddenly sneezing, one should stop or sit for a few minutes and then restart. By this act the "bad thing" passes and one will be saved.

In Greek culture, sneezing was widely recognized as a divine omen. In Book 17 of Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope speaks to Eumaeus in private about the suitors feasting in the halls of the king's palace, and how surely Odysseus will return and kill them. Suddenly her son Telemachus sneezes and Penelope laughed. A sneeze meant the intercession of the gods to make her statement come true. It was a blessing from the gods, connecting the sneeze to the "God Bless You."[citation needed]

Meanwhile, an undated story from the Buddha's lifetime (~500 BCE), recorded in the Buddhist Vinaya, concerning customs around sneezing is as follows: "Once while giving a talk he sneezed and everyone in the audience called out `Live long!' (Ciram jiva!). This made so much noise that the talk was interrupted. The Buddha then asked the audience: `When 'Live long!' is said after someone sneezes, do they live long or not because of that?' The monks admitted that this was not so. The Buddha agreed and said that therefore, it is not necessary to say `Live long!' each time someone sneezes (Vin.II,140)"[10][16]


  1. ^ a b c Jucker, Andreas H.; Taavitsainen, Irma (10 April 2008). Speech Acts in the History of 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.
  2. ^ Alhujelan, Naser S. (2008). Worldviews of the Peoples of the Arabian Peninsula: A Study of Cultural System. 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.
  3. ^ Lewis, Roger (1997). The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Applause. p. 415. ISBN 9781557832481. The letter ends with the solemn valediction 'God bless you .'
  4. ^ Everett, Isaac (1 May 2009). The Emergent Psalter. 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.
  5. ^ Wachspress, Amy (8 June 2012). Memories from Cherry Harvest. 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."
  6. ^ Driscoll, Rev. Michael S.; Hilgartner, Rev. Msgr. Richard B.; Kelly, Maureen A.; John Thomas Lane; James Presta; Corinna Laughlin; Jim Schellman; D. Todd Williamson; Paul Turner; Catherine Combier-Donovan; Diana Macalintal; Sr. Genevieve (2012). The Liturgy Documents, Volume Two: Essential Documents for Parish Sacramental Rites and Other Liturgies. Liturgy Training Publications. p. 439. ISBN 9781616710279. Thus, in the 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.")
  7. ^ Patrick, Bethanne Kelly; Thompson, John Milliken (2009). An Uncommon History of Common Things. 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.
  8. ^ Whiting, Bartl Jere (1977). Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases. 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.
  9. ^ a b c d e Snopes Urban Legends - Bless You!
  10. ^ a b "Guide To Buddhism A To Z". www.buddhisma2z.com. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b Ed Zotti, Editor. Why Do We Say "God Bless You" After a Sneeze?, Straight Dope, 27 September 2001.
  12. ^ a b Madsci.org, Mad Scientist posting by Tom Wilson, M.D./PhD, Pathology, Div. of Molecular Oncology, Washington University School of Medicine
  13. ^ Stollznow, Karen (2014). ""God Bless You!" – A Blessing in Disguise?". Skeptic Magazine. 19 (4). Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  14. ^ story by T. Crofton Croker (1898). "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry: Edited and Selected by W.B. Yeats". Project Gutenberg.
  15. ^ Re: Why does plucking my eyebrows make me sneeze?, MadSci Network posting by Robert West, Post-doc/Fellow, 1997-08-05
  16. ^ "Jayarava's Raves: Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom". Jayarava's Raves. 25 February 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2020.