ENGLISCH/779: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (133) Superstitions (SB)


133. Why you say: "Bless you!", when someone catches a cold

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

Some people say: Cheers! when someone sneezes, which sounds rather rude. The well-mannered Englishman says: Bless you! instead, but why?

Yours sincerely,

Thomas Bode (from Stuttgart, Germany)


Dear Mr Bode

The custom of saying Bless you! when someone sneezes, started a long time ago when people thought that evil spirits could get into you while your eyes were closed and your mouth was open. And, in fact, when you are sneezing this is exactly what happens.

There are other habits in British life which derive of superstitions, e.g.:

- 13 is an unlucky number and Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day. So, if anything goes wrong on a Friday 13th, you know it has to be.

- It is bad luck to open an umbrella in your house or to walk under a ladder. Therefore it is quite thoughtless to do so.

- A widespread custom is that at her wedding the bride must wear "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue". Even Princess Diana had a little blue ribbon inside her wedding dress, which was brand new, except the laces, which were old and her veil, which she borrowed from Queen mum. So tradition could not be blamed, when her marriage was not successful.

- In Scotland, the first person who comes into the house after midnight on 1st January must have black hair and bring a piece of coal, some salt and a bottle of whisky. This custom is called "First Footing". So, every household makes sure, that this is the case. Otherwise - what an unlucky start to the New Year!

And last but not least, when you hope that something will be OK, you don't press your thumbs (german custom) - you keep "your fingers crossed".

So, good luck to you - I keep my fingers crossed
and God bless you...


Mrs Gobbledygook

21 April 2008