Afraid To Sneeze?


1906: “Why are people afraid to sneeze? Do you know what sneezing means?

You sneeze. You say to yourself, or some wise friend says to you, that you are “catching cold.” Or you are “taking cold.” You look around the room and declare there is a draught. There must be a door ajar, or a window open, or a crack in the floor. Your mind is filled immediately with thoughts of pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, grip, diphtheria, consumption, and the Lord only knows what else.

People have said “God Bless You” for several thousand years—when someone sneezes:

You bundle up. You blow your nose. You make a fool of yourself generally, and every one around you is rendered uncomfortable. Jones may say, “God bless you!” Smith may cry, “God spare you!” Brown may avouch, “The Lord save your soul!”

Now, brethren, our Creator gave to us the privilege of sneezing that we might, by a spasmodic action, remove or expel foreign bodies from the nasal organs. Sneezing is merely an involuntary reflex act. What is a reflex act, some one might ask, and the answer must be that it is an involuntary action from nerve stimulus. Ever since tobacco was discovered snuff has been used by people to give this nerve stimulus. Recently, menthol is used for the same purpose, and it is far milder.

A good sneeze clears the olfactory. It relieves the nasal cavity. It goes almost immediately to the brain and illuminates It. One man will sneeze on a cold, another will sneeze it off. Give me seventeen good sneezes in succession and I will laugh at the thought of pneumonia and its sisters, cousins and aunts.

Some guests of mine sneeze in their napkins—which, of course, we immediately cast into the furnace. Some turn aside their faces when the involuntary reflex act suddenly strikes them, which is most dangerous. I knew a man with a short neck to sneeze over his left shoulder and die of apoplexy. The twisting of the neck caused a contraction or constriction of certain physical apparatus, the result of which was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Always sneeze straight ahead. If it be necessary to sneeze at the table, turn the chair around so that the head and body will front the same way. And don’t sneeze in the napkin.—New York Press; 1906.

‘Sneeze’ is mentioned just once in the Bible (when a child’s life is restored): 2 Kings 4:35 Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.

Elisha cried unto God in faith; and the beloved son was restored alive to his mother.”–Matthew Henry.

Ellicott’s Commentary; re: 2 Kings 4:35 “The child sneezed.–The verb occurs here only. It denotes a faint rather than a loud sneeze. (Heb., ‘atish?h; Job 41:10.) It is omitted by the LXX., which has, “and he bowed himself over the boy until seven times.” The repeated sneezing was a sign of restored respiration.” ¹ (Comp. Luke 7:15.)

More information:

Talmudic tradition is that the custom dates from Jacob. Before his time man did not die of disease, ¹  ² but when his appointed time was come he sneezed once and was dead. Jacob petitioned for exemption from this law, and his prayer was granted on condition that among all nations a sneeze should be hallowed by the words: “God bless you.”

St. Augustine records that when the ancients arose in the morning, if they sneezed while putting on their shoes, they immediately went back to bed again in order to get up more auspiciously, and so escape misfortunes likely to occur during the day.”–Current Literature; A Magazine of Record & Review; Vol. 17; January-June, 1895.