Grasping at Straws: “Bless You”

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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Did you think to say “Bless you” when you read that? I bet you did. It would be impolite if you didn’t, right?

Do you usually feel “blessed” when someone says the phrase to you? As if a beam of heavenly light has just shined down upon you? As if your nose will suddenly stop looking like the real-life version of the giant slime nose from Double Dare?

How sincere is your “Thank you” after someone blesses you post-sneeze? Do you feel as if that person has rescued you from an eternal nightmare of un-blessed horrors? How do you measure your thankfulness for their heroic gesture?

While following this age-old sneeze protocol (not to be confused with one of the many Mission: Impossible sequels), do you ever think about why you are adhering to all these rules, as well as if they are necessary whatsoever? If not, well, that’s where I come in.

You may be wondering, “Where does the phrase ‘Bless you’ and its connection to the sneeze even come from?” Shortest answer is: it’s complicated.

The history of the “Bless you” is tied up in plenty of rumors and superstition and all that, but most agree it originated from a couple different, yet similar, points. Tracing back as far as the first century CE, sneezing was believed to be the body’s way of forcing an evil spirit out, while somehow also believed to be the opportunity for an evil spirit to invade your body. People back then subscribing to these contradictory claims pretty much makes perfect sense when you consider a lot of the irrational things people used to believe. I’m going to go ahead and guess that sneezing was just as common back then as it is today, yet the common belief was that this simple, harmless nasal cough was the work of none other than Satan himself. What else could it have been, am I right?

The most accepted reason for the “Bless you” is when Pope Gregory I decreed that all sneezes be followed by a “God bless you” in order to defend against the first bubonic plague around 541 CE. This one can definitely be considered more reasonable, as everyone was grasping at straws themselves for any way to protect themselves from an illness that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 million people. At that point, calling on the big guns from upstairs to combat sneezes seemed like a logical move.

Despite the numbers showing that saying “God bless you” didn’t really work, like, at all, the phrase has certainly stuck around (commonly shortened to just “Bless you”). Almost every culture has their own variation on it, with many not including a reference to God and instead centered around good health (like “Salud” in Spanish). I concede that this mindset is admirable, as a sneeze often implies that the person performing the sneeze is sick. However, a sneeze no longer signals impending death as it did all those centuries ago, which is why I’m calling for all of us to collectively begin phasing this ingrained social cue out of our lives immediately. It can only improve our lives, I’m sure of it.

Think about the mental gymnastics we go through whenever there’s a sneeze in the office or any other public place. For the sneezer, you’re wired to feel shame over your sneeze, and then be compelled to add a splash of disingenuous gratitude with your obligatory “Thank you.” For the “blessers,” whether or not you say “Bless you” becomes a test of your morality. If you don’t say it then you’re basically shoving that person into a coffin. No one ever gets called out for this, but there’s sure to be a judgmental look or two, which is way worse if we’re being honest.

It gets even sillier when there is multiple sneezes. Are you required to say “Bless you” for every sneeze? Does one “Bless you” cover them all? Where’s the handbook on all this? Pope Gregory I clearly was not prepared for the monster he created, and we are all suffering as a result. The negatives associated with the “Bless you” exchange completely outweigh the imaginary benefits. And if you think there aren’t people out there who have spent the better part of an afternoon contemplating if a co-worker can’t stand their guts because they skipped a “Bless you” then you have a lot to learn. Consider this right here Sneezing School. You should be taking notes.


Did you think to say “Bless you” when you read that? I hope you didn’t, so you can feel the thrill of not having the minor inconvenience of the “Bless you” exchange interrupting your day. There’s a brave new world out there filled with people simply going about their business as we don’t even notice a sneeze just occurred, and it’s right there for us to reach out and grab.

All we need is some sort of official, widespread announcement that “Bless you” no longer has to be a thing. Just imagine the ease in which a sneeze can come and go, similar to when someone coughs. Even a couple coughs are usually ignored by all nearby parties without a second thought. Sure, if the coughs are super loud, especially in a quiet space, that person might give an “Excuse me” as an acknowledgment that he/she is being a little extra. That’s cool. Also, if the coughing persists for a while, and someone else slides in with a “Hey, you alright over there?” then that’s cool too. Both of those are voluntary gestures where someone is truly being polite because they want to be, not because it is “what you’re supposed to do.”

If some of you are uncomfortable with entirely ignoring a sneeze, I propose an alternative: Hand the person a tissue.

The unspoken “Bless you.” Kleenex, there’s your next advertising campaign.

It’s subtle, it’s heartfelt, and it provides a tangible benefit for everyone involved. It’s literally the exact opposite of saying “Bless you.” Who says no to this? Tissue companies would be all in on this idea, and it’s not like there’s a “Bless you” market that would suddenly collapse with the absence of people saying the phrase. What I’m saying is ending the “Bless you” exchange is good for the economy. I don’t see how there could be any opposition.

Despite everything you have just read, there is one instance in which you should say “Bless you,” and that is if it’s in a sarcastic tone after someone sneezes near you and does not cover his/her nose and/or mouth. A sassy “Excuse you” is also very effective here. Don’t be the person who doesn’t cover up when you sneeze. It’s rude, it’s unsanitary, and it’s unacceptable. If you disagree, you should expect some sass coming your way and I absolutely condone it.

Other than that, “Bless you” should disappear from our lives as soon as possible. It serves no purpose except to create unnecessary, often awkward social interactions that feature unwilling participants. The mundane madness of the “Bless you” needs to end. This may be the easiest decision we as a society have ever had to make.

Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws.