“Bless You” After Sneeze Results in School Discipline [now with video]




Niceties like saying “Bless You” after someone sneezes are evidently verboten in Vacaville California classrooms after Vacaville California high school teacher Steve Cuckovich disciplined one of his students for that “aberrant” behavior.  When asked about why he dished out the discipline, Cuckovich responded “[T]he blessing doesn’t really make sense anymore,” he said. “When you sneeze in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So they were saying, ‘God bless you,’ for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, what you’re doing doesn’t really make any sense anymore.”  According to this logic shaking hands (a custom that started to show that you had no weapon), saying “thank God” and other conventional niceties are all punishable offenses.  Of course this is all just another effort to espouse an anti-religious viewpoint and foist those beliefs on children, much like the recent Capo Valley High School case that is heading for the Supreme Court where a high school teacher continually belittled anyone that dared to discuss creationism.  Mr. Cuckovich’s outlandish behavior is merely another example of the concentrated effort to “rid” schools and children of religious thought and beliefs.

“You know we’re Catholic. We’re supposed to say, you know, your religion,” a student from Cuckovich’s Will C. Wood High School said.  “It’s respectful to say bless you.”  “I think that’s ridiculous. First, the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, preventing a kid from saying, ‘Bless You?’ ” said Alan Johnson a parent of a student at the school.  “Everybody has their right to their own beliefs,” Johnson said. “But they don’t have rights to impose those beliefs on other people, especially not school children.”

What is even funnier is that the fascist Mr. Cuckovich didn’t really have his facts straight.  Several possible origins are commonly given for the use of the phrase “bless you.” The practice of blessing someone who sneezes, dating as far back as at least AD 77, however, is far older than most specific explanations can account for.

One explanation holds that the custom originally began as an actual blessing. Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

A variant of the Pope Gregory I story places it with Pope Gregory VII, then tells the common story of “Ring Around the Rosey” being connected to the same plague.  A legend holds that it was believed that the heart stops beating and the phrase “bless you” is meant to ensure the return of life or to encourage your heart to continue beating.  Another version says that people used to believe that your soul can be thrown from your body when you sneeze, that sneezing otherwise opened your body to invasion by the Devil or evil spirits, or that sneezing was your body’s effort to force out an invading evil spirit. Thus, “bless you” or “God bless you” is used as a sort of shield against evil.

The Irish Folk story “Master and Man” by T. Crofton Croker, collected by William Butler Yeats, describes this variation.  Alternatively, it may be possible that the phrase began simply as a response for an event that was not well understood at the time.  Another belief is that people used to see sneezing as a sign that God would answer your prayers or an of good fortune or good luck. In this case, “Bless you” would be in recognition of that luck.

Whatever the real origin of the term, today it is both expression of faith for some and a mere courtesy for others.  Whatever the origin, the nasty Mr. Cuckovich should be the one receiving the discipline, not the student merely expressing his faith and courtesy.

About Geoff Willis