Why do we say bless you when someone sneezes?

There are lots of things we do that don’t really make a lot of sense when we question them. There are things we say that actually don’t make sense when you breakdown the words, for example why do we say stuff like “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”? It makes sense but it’s silly – no one lives in a glass house. What about: “From the horse’s mouth” to mean that we got the information from the source. What a silly thing to say. Saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes is also pretty odd.



The fact is that most saying are now repeated out of context. For example, the “From the horse’s mouth” saying is from horse trading. When you realise that, it makes more sense. The saying suggests that the potential buyer has checked the horse’s mouth to determine its real age and therefore its worth. When repeated out of context, it’s just odd but we understand what it means. That’s the same for saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes.

Old English

The age old “Bless you” response to a sneeze is something that people have been saying for centuries. It’s thought that the saying goes back to AD77, which would mean that it was said somewhat differently as the English language goes back to somewhere between the 5th and 7th centuries. That language, which historians class as “Old English” doesn’t resemble the language we speak and read all that much but it’s far more recognisable than the language spoken in Britain around AD77.


There are two main stories told to explain why we say “Bless you” in response to a sneeze. Both revolve around religion. The first explanation is that people genuinely believed that the devil was leaving the person’s body when a sneeze arrived. The other explanation was the far more sinister belief that a sneeze opened the body to an attack by the devil himself. Saying “Bless You”, or more commonly at that time “God bless you” warded off these devil related troubles.

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