Many times reporters are called on to write about subjects they know nothing about. It can be exciting because you get to do research and learn about new things, but there is always a chance you may miss something obvious and embarrass yourself.
The subject we have chosen for this article is one I might qualify as an expert witness. The subject is sneezing.
I call myself an expert because I have suffered from allergies, hay fever, and sinus problems for most of my life, which is a long, long time!
Now, mind you, I know little about the scientific explanations about sneezing, but I know how to do it. In fact I've been told my nose is my BIGGEST problem.
What do you say when someone sneezes? I guess, in English speaking countries, the most common response is "God bless you," or simply "Bless you, or Gesundheit." When I was about 12 or 13 I first saw the German word "Gesundheit," in print and you wouldn't believe how I tried to pronounce it. I thought it should be pronounced, "guess-soon-diet" with the emphasis on "soon." -- Don't laugh, how was this southern-born desert rat supposed to know how to pronounce a German word? I didn't even speak good English. I may have qualified as a red-neck.
I checked with Wikipedia online to see what different words are used throughout the world in response to someone sneezing. Would you believe, they list no less than 81 words, most translated "Health", or "Bless you," or "Live long.
Some of my favorites in the list were the Armenian aroghjootyoon, which means, "Health!" ; Bosnian Nazdravlje, "To your good health;" and Hawaiians say, (Kihe, a mauli ola.)", Meaning, "Sneeze and you shall live". The Cantonese say (words meaning), "A great fortunate occurrence", and the Chinese say, (Duo he dian shui)--(Yi bai sui). Which apparently means, "Drink more water," and "May you live for a hundred years." Some countries have different expressions if the sneezer is male or female.
Can you imagine saying any of those complicated words every time somebody sneezes? I personally prefer my mothers expression. When someone sneezed around our house momma would say, "Scat, tom, your tail's on fire!" I'm sorry, I don't know the origin of this expression, but I think it came from the backwoods of Pushmataha County, Oklahoma.
What makes a person sneeze?
Basically when something enters your nasal cavity that doesn't belong there, be it dust, dander or germs, your system seeks to remove it by blowing it out of there with an a-a-achew! I know a guy who transformed this to say, "I hate you!" While he sneezed.
Their are other causes but I don't want to get into the messy part of it. Like they say about kissing, sneezing is a nasty, disease spreading habit. You need to cover your nose to keep from spreading disease to those around you. But when you need to sneeze, nothing else can satisfy you. But if you hold your nose you are liable to blow your ears out.
What people say when someone sneezes is an interesting study. What I'm about to report is not a scientific exposition so don't hold me to the hard facts. This is simply what I've heard.
They say the expression, "God bless you," began way back there at the beginning of things. The Bible says after God created man from the dust of the earth he, "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7). So somebody concluded, if life entered man through breath going in his nose, the opposite would be true. If breath was expelled from the nose, which is what happens when one sneezes, the person would die. So when someone sneezed, others would call for God's blessings to prevent the person's death. There is no scriptural authority for this part of it.
Someone threw in a myth which assumes, when you expel the breath of life, called soul in some versions of the Bible, the devil is standing by to jump in and take its place. Again, this is not in the Bible, but if you cover your nose it should prevent this from happening.
Another superstition was, sneezing forced evil spirits out of the body, endangering the folks around you because the spirits might enter their bodies. The blessing was bestowed to protect both the person who sneezed and others around him.
One myth says your heart stops when you sneeze, and so they ask for God to bless you by starting it again. Physicians say this is not true, the heart does not stop.
A more logical explanation was, it originated in Rome when the bubonic plague was raging through Europe. One of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing, and people who caught it would almost certainly die. "God bless you," or "Good health" were wishes for the person's recovery and life.
Everyday Mysteries, Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress online, offers some interesting facts as follows. *Sneezes are an automatic reflex which cannot be stopped once it starts. *Sneezes can travel at a speed of 100 miles per hour and the wet spray can radiate five feet. *People don't sneeze when they are asleep because the nerves involved in nerve reflex are also resting. *Between 18 and 35% of the population sneezes when exposed to sudden bright light. *Some people sneeze when plucking their eyebrows because the nerve endings in the face are irritated and then fire an impulse which reaches the nasal nerve. *Donna Griffiths from Worchestershire, England sneezed for 978 days, sneezing once every minute at the beginning, slowing to once every five minutes in the latter stages. This is the longest sneezing episode on record.
There are reportedly several other causes of sneezing, responses and myths and superstition connected with it, but here is the good news! If you sneeze with your eyes open it will not blow your eyeballs out. And, yet even more comforting to me, is the fact no one ever died from sneezing!
This fact alone is nothing to sneeze at.