The belief that a sneeze should be answered by others with a verbal blessing or salutation such as 'Bless you!' is, as far as we can tell, almost universal, and old enough to be quoted by many classical writers. In Britain, the belief has grown up that the custom stems from the Great Plague, but it is clear that it goes back long before that, as for example in Caxton's The Golden Legend, printed in 1483, which includes the saying of 'God help you!' or 'Christe help!'. In *Aubrey's time: 'We have a custome, that when one sneezes, every one els putts off his hatt, and bowes, and cries God bless ye Sir' (1686/1880: 103-4). This was only twenty years after the Plague, but he does not make the connection. Nevertheless, groundless as it is, the belief is now so well fixed in the popular mind that it counts as folklore in itself. The equally widespread idea that we say 'bless you' because our ancestors believed we were sneezing our soul out of our body is similarly groundless. See also under *Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses for an allied plague problem.
   There are numerous other folklore items connected with sneezing. A widespread rhyme distinguishes the days of the week:
   Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger Sneeze on Wednesday, get a letter Sneeze on Thursday, something better Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for sorrow Saturday, see your love tomorrow (Buckinghamshire; Henderson, 1879: 137)
   Alternatively, it is the number of sneezes which matter: once a kiss, twice a wish, three times a letter, four times better; or, once is lucky, twice unlucky. Opie and Tatem quote Homer and Theocritus to demonstrate the antiquity of sneeze-counting. A manuscript from the time of Elizabeth I (Lansdowne MS 121, p. 146, quoted in N&Q 7s:2 (1886), 165-6) gives a number of current beliefs concerning sneezing, several of which are concerned with the number of sneezes combined with where and when they occur. Other sneeze beliefs are more concerned with the personal situation, of which there seem to be endless variations. Examples include: it was a bad omen if a baby sneezed during its christening (Wiltshire, 1975: 94); if you sneeze on a Saturday night after the candle is lighted, you will next week see a stranger ... (N&Q 1s:4 (1851), 99); if you sneeze before breakfast you will receive news or a present that day (N&Q 4s:1 (1880), 42).
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 364-6; Hazlitt, 1905: 553-5; Lean, 1903: ii.i. 24-5, 101, 266-7, 304-5, 327-8, 398-9; N&Q 5s:8 (1877), 108, 221-3, 284, 376.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sneezing — Sneez ing, n. (Physiol.) The act of violently forcing air out through the nasal passages while the cavity of the mouth is shut off from the pharynx by the approximation of the soft palate and the base of the tongue. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Sneezing — Sneeze Sneeze, v. i. [imp. & p. p. {Sneezed}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Sneezing}.] [OE. snesen; of uncertain origin; cf. D. snuse to sniff, E. neese, and AS. fne[ o]san.] To emit air, chiefly through the nose, audibly and violently, by a kind of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sneezing — noun Sneezing is used before these nouns: ↑fit …   Collocations dictionary

  • sneezing —    According to a European folk belief, the soul flies out of the mouth whenever a person sneezes. A blessing should be said immediately to prevent the soul from being captured by a DEMON before it can return to the body. In Islam, Allah… …   Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology

  • sneezing — snɪːz n. involuntary expulsion of air from the nose and mouth v. involuntarily expel air from the nose and mouth …   English contemporary dictionary

  • sneezing — n. Sternutation …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • sneezing — noun a symptom consisting of the involuntary expulsion of air from the nose • Syn: ↑sneeze, ↑sternutation • Derivationally related forms: ↑sneeze, ↑sneezy (for: ↑sneeze), ↑sneeze ( …   Useful english dictionary

  • Sneezing powder — refers to a group of powders or powder like substances which induce sneezing when someone is exposed to them. This is usually done as a practical joke or prank to an unsuspecting victim.To make a rudimentary sneezing powder, simply grind any hot… …   Wikipedia

  • sneezing gas — n a gaseous sternutator created for chemical warfare * * * diphenylchlorarsine …   Medical dictionary

  • sneezing gas — čiaudulinės dujos statusas T sritis chemija apibrėžtis Čiaudulį sukeliančios dujos. atitikmenys: angl. sneezing gas rus. чихательный газ …   Chemijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas