I’ll do anything to keep from sneezing in some places to avoid the predictable chorus of “bless you’s” that will inevitably follow. I’ve almost blown out my ear drums trying to stifle the compressive forces that launch a good sneeze–not to mention that in so suppressing what comes naturally I’ve been denied the explosive and weirdly pleasurable release of a good honking sneeze.
One explanation holds that the custom originally began as an actual blessing. Gregory I became Pope in 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.
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
On the other hand, there was a time when sneezing was in good taste, so people actually carried around sneeze-inducing stuff–like SNUFF.
Apart from murder, and oral ” snuff”, snuff is any powder prepared for sniffing. Of course, the main use of the term is for powdered tobacco.
Way back, individuals used to have their own little snuff mills, grinding their snuff fresh from a tobacco plug (called a “carotte”)
Oral “snuff” is very coarse milled tobacco, not sniffed but put in the moutn: see Snuff in the U.S.A.
This website is not about forms of oral “snuff” (illegal in Britain, though that’s not why).
It’s about nasal snuff.
Note: “sn” is a significant phoneme in English, meaning pertaining to the nose, as in: snout, sneeze, snore, snitch, sniff, snot, snort; and, of course, snuff.
Not only that but sneezing was a sign of high breeding–on the one hand–and a sign of disdain on the other, hence, something to be sneezed at.
People in older times imagined that a sneeze cleared the mind. It certainly gave them a feeling of exhilaration. Suddenly, 17th century Europe caught a craze for sneezing. It was considered the right thing to do in good society. Indeed, the more you sneezed, the more you proved yourself a member of the privileged class.
To build up this new status symbol, all kinds of devices were used. It was soon realized that snuff caused sneezing. Therefore everyone who was someone carried with him a little box, containing a mixture of sneeze-producing herbs or tobacco. By drawing an ample pinch of it into the nostrils, a hearty sneeze resulted in no time.
Of course only the rich and idle had time to sneeze or could afford snuff. Hence the self-induced sneeze became synonymous with aristocratic living. If you were able to sneeze ‘on call,’ you showed audibly your status in society.
But one matter had still to be decided. Just to sneeze haphazardly was not good enough. There had to be a special occasion. Soon sneezing became part of men’s conversation. You indulged in it whenever you wanted to show your disapproval of anything said or, even more so, your lack of interest in the matter discussed. A sneeze was an unmistakable way of saying politely “you bore me.”
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