Why Do We Say 'Bless You' When Someone Sneezes?

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

We learn a number of social cues from an early age. It’s impolite to cough without covering our mouths. We say thank you when people give us things like money or cake. And when someone rears back and explodes in a violent expulsion of snot, we say bless you.

Why do we do this? What does a blessing have to do with sneezing? Did anyone ever believe a demon flew out of our noses as we honked one out?

Recorded civilization hasn’t done such a great job of tracking this peculiar ritual. Mentions of the bless you reaction date back to as early as 77 C.E., though no explanation is usually given. What is clear is that people tended to acknowledge sneezes as a sign of good health that prompted salutations. Greeks and Romans followed up a projection of mucus with phrases like live long and may Jupiter bless you.

That positive connotation changed with Pope Gregory I while Europe was in the throes of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, in the 6th century. Because sneezing was a symptom of illness, the Pope thought it would be proper to say God bless you as a little extra insurance from what was otherwise near-certain death.

There was also a pervasive myth that the heart would briefly stop while sneezing, likely due to changes in blood flow that might cause a brief delay between heartbeats. People may have said bless you to make sure the heart would continue beating rather than stop altogether, or as a form of congratulations: Bless you, Carl. That sneeze didn’t kill you.

Cultures who believed spirits could either be ejected or evil spirits transmitted during a sneeze may have also adopted the phrase to help ward off such exchanges.

However it came about, it’s clear we’ve adopted a blanket policy when it comes to sneezing. When people don’t say bless you, we begin to suspect they don’t care about our well-being. As etiquette columnist Miss Manners once observed, it’s considered more rude for people getting hit with snot shrapnel to bypass the bless you than it is for the person detonating the germ bombs to fail to say excuse me. Leave it to a plague to make a lasting impression on people.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

What Is the Insurrection Act?

The Insurrection Act gives the president the authority to address domestic disturbances using the military.
The Insurrection Act gives the president the authority to address domestic disturbances using the military.
Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images

The use of military forces to address volatile situations normally under the purview of law enforcement within the United States is a very rare occurrence, and for good reason. Troops are legally forbidden to be involved in domestic law enforcement affairs without prior congressional authorization.

One loophole does exist. It’s the Insurrection Act, and it empowers the president to dispatch soldiers to combat an insurrection, civil disturbance, natural disaster, or terrorist attack on American soil. But actually invoking the Insurrection Act is no simple matter.

The Act was introduced in 1807 and gives the president the authority to direct American troops to intervene in state-level civil unrest in the event local authorities are unable to control the disturbance. (It was amended in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina to include disasters and terrorism.) It’s used sparingly, particularly as modern police forces have become more militarized. The last time the Act was invoked was in 1992, when riots following the acquittal of four police officers tried in the beating of Rodney King consumed Los Angeles.

At the time, the California governor requested military forces—and normally, the president would activate federal troops at the behest of a governor or state legislature. According to the Los Angeles Times, one exception for dispatching soldiers without state approval is an indication that states are violating civil rights, as was the case for several U.S. presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson) who used military forces to back desegregation in Southern states. Alternately, the president would have to believe such events are interfering with a state’s ability to enforce their laws.

Put simply: Military forces are typically sent at the request of the state, but a request isn’t necessary if the president believes troops are needed to restore order.

When states believe local police are being overwhelmed, their preference is to use the National Guard, which is authorized to act as law enforcement on domestic soil.

If the Act is used, the president would first have to issue a proclamation ordering those involved in any disturbance to disperse. If that fails, the president would issue an executive order to activate the military. States would then likely argue against the intrusion of such forces. It is not clear, however, that they would have the legal justification to prevent such an action if the president calls for it.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]