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.

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Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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