Nothing to Sneeze At

Once when Red Skelton was being interviewed, he was asked if there was ever a time when he was at a loss for words.  The great comedian hesitated for a moment and then said, “Yes, I dreamed one night that I died and went to heaven and just as I was being taken before God, He sneezed…and I didn’t know what to say to Him!”

In olden days, people imagined that a real good sneeze cleared out the mind (so if something was being said that you considered to be a complete waste of your time, you sneezed to show it wasn’t worth the space in your brain).  This in turn gave rise to little snuff boxes containing a mixture of ah-choo-producing herbs for the nose.  So in discussions and debates, if a point was being made you considered worthless, you’d get out you little nostril snuffer, inhale a pepper-like concoction, and let out a loud nose blast.  Consequently and logically, anything “not to be sneezed at” was something that was worthwhile to be both heard and discussed.

Something not to be sneezed at was this recent public school news story.  Seventeen-year-old Kendra Turner was siting in class when the student next to her sneezed.  The honour-roll senior simply and quietly responded with a “Bless you.”  The teacher in the room heard the phrase and sent the born-again pupil to the school office for bringing religion into the classroom.  The principal then suspended her.  The next day, a number of Kendra’s classmates, in support of her, wore t-shirts with the words, “Bless you” handwritten on them.

Now there is debate among etymologists (those who study the origin of a word and phrase) as to what the saying “Bless you” is for. There are three theories:

Protect – Some believe that when you sneeze, you expel your soul and “Bless you” is a protective oath said to safeguard it from Satan in the soul’s temporary separation from the body (until it safely returns inside).  Others believe that when you sneeze, it is a demonic spirit you expel and “Bless you” is a protective oath uttered to stop the demon from re-entering the same individual who had just gotten rid of it.

Praise – Some believe that when you sneeze it physically causes the heart in your chest  to stop and “Bless you” is congratulations upon its successful restart.

Plague – Some believe that the practice goes back to the bubonic plague.  They say that when a person sneezed, it was a sure sign they had the plague and they’d soon be pushing up daisies; and so “Bless you” was intended as a benediction for the soon-to-be departed.

But there is no debate as to where the saying “bless you” comes from.  All etymologists agree on its biblical origin as found in Numbers 6:23-26: Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

The bottom line?  It’s good that the godly young lady stopped at “Bless you.”  Why?  Because in this day and age, if she’d said the entire passage above, instead of just a suspension, they might have burned her at the stake!