This research by Whydo is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission when you purchase through our links. Learn more


Why Do People Say God Bless You When You Sneeze?

Superstition or Logic?

Related Questions

So, why do people say god bless you when you sneeze? Following every sneeze, a “bless you” or a similar phrase exists, according to good etiquette. No sneeze is complete without it, whether it’s a resounding nasal explosion or a delicate achoo. Have you ever thought about why we do it, though, except that our mother raised us well?

Can you picture someone sneezing, then sitting quietly and observing them as they gather themselves? The embarrassment is making us cringe even as we write this. Saying “God bless you” in response to a sneeze was just one of those minor manners standards that have been ingrained in us since a young age, aside from the fact that it made both you and the sneezer uncomfortable. But why do we offer a “bless you” response to sneezing?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite clear where this strange social custom came from. However, there are a lot of intriguing suggestions, and unsurprisingly, most of them are dominant in superstition.

Why Do People Say God Bless You When You Sneeze?

Why Do People Say God Bless You When You Sneeze?
Why Do People Say God Bless You When You Sneeze?

There are several hypotheses regarding the phrase’s origins. However, the majority of them revolve around superstition. You might wonder, what do ghosts and evil spirits have to do with achoos? According to Google, superstition is the excessively optimistic belief in and respect for supernatural beings.

Well, to begin with, one of the most common theories originated during the bubonic plague. Pope Gregory I believed that uttering “God bless you” as a brief tiny prayer after a person sneezed would prevent them from passing away because one of the primary signs of this illness was sneezing.

The idea that sneezing might release the spirit from the body is a different myth dating back to ancient beliefs. Unless, of course, God was with you and shielded you from this.

Some people even held the view that the spirits that left the body were only wicked ones, and that if they were banished, sneezing forced evil spirits to be free to wander alongside the good spirits. And trust us, you didn’t want any bad spirits following you around. So if you’re inclined, you can offer this as one of those amusing facts and figures over dinner or at gatherings.

Then there’s the myth that when we sneeze, our heart stops and that uttering “bless you” brings the sneezer back to life.

Therefore, even though most of us don’t worry about devils, temporary death, or the bubonic plague, it’s now seen as courteous to say bless you.

Is it True That Your Heart Stops When You Sneeze?

Is it True That Your Heart Stops When You Sneeze?
Is it True That Your Heart Stops When You Sneeze?

No, sneezing doesn’t cause your heart to stop.

A tickling experience at the nerve endings signals your brain to sneeze to get rid of whatever is causing the lining of your nose to itch. You start by inhaling deeply and holding it, which causes your chest muscles to contract. Your eyelids close, your tongue touches the roof of your mouth, and your breath comes out quickly via your nose as the air pressure in your lungs rises.

Where does the belief that your heart stops when you sneeze come from? Sneezing causes your chest to contract and expand, which alters your blood flow and could alter the pattern of your heartbeat.

The American College of Cardiology’s former president, Dr. Richard Conti, hypothesizes that the feeling of having the heart “skip a beat” may cause people to believe that their hearts truly stop beating when they sneeze. He claimed that when there is a significant interval between beats, the subsequent beat is stronger and more audible, possibly as a comical experience in the upper chest or throat.

What Does the Word “Gesundheit” Mean?

What Does the Word "Gesundheit" Mean?
What Does the Word “Gesundheit” Mean?

You could hear the word “gesundheit” thrown around in addition to the phrase “bless you.” The German word for “health” is “gesundheit.” Combining the words “gesund,” which means “healthy,” with “-heit,” which means “-hood,” created the word.

Offering good health to those who just sneezed was thought to fend off any potential illnesses. It makes it natural that this word has become so entrenched in American culture, given that many immigrants to the United States were from Germany and American soldiers served in Germany during both the World Wars.

Final Words

Although we humans like to think of ourselves as the most intelligent species on the planet, there are some genuinely odd traditions and superstitions that we have that don’t seem to have any scientific justification.

So what’s wrong with wishing someone well while all of this “bless you” stuff is based on superstition and old beliefs?

May each sneeze you release serve to ward off evil spirits, ward off any harmful illnesses, and leave you with the beautiful delight that only a good sneeze can offer!

Written by:
Editor-in-Chief and lead author at WhyDo