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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What Is the Shelf Life of Donated Eyes?

iStock.com/Pedro_Turrini
iStock.com/Pedro_Turrini

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

I can only answer for cornea and eye donation.

The FDA does all oversight (no pun intended) of organ disposition.

The main organs—heart, liver, pancreas, lungs, etc.—are transplanted within hours. They are just not viable if they are not being perfused constantly.

The other tissues—like bone, skin, tendons, etc.—do not need to be transplanted immediately. But I am not sure on the regulations of when they need to be transplanted.

With the eyes, there are four tissues that can be recovered.

We recover whole eyes for research and education purposes. These usually go much faster, but we can hold them up to a year.

Conjunctiva can also be recovered; conjunctiva is a clear covering over most of the eye (it is what gets irritated when you have pink eye). I have been working as a recovery tech for five years, and our office has not had a request for "conj" in all that time. I believe it is mostly used for research, but I could be wrong.

Sclera is the white area of your eye. It is fairly thick and flexible. If you have ever touched a reptile egg, that is what it reminds me of. We recover sclera for transplant. They use it for several things, but mainly to patch punctures. Similar to if you pop the inner tube of your bike and repair it. Sclera can also be used to repair ear drums. We can hold on to this for up to a year.

The main thing we recover is corneas. In the U.S., we must transplant these within seven days of recovery. (Recovery is usually within hours of death, but we can push it up to 20 hours after if needed.) Sometimes we have more corneas than we need, and then they are shipped overseas and transplanted up to 14 days after recovery. There is no real different outcome with the later transplant time, but the FDA in the U.S. made the rules. (You can sign up to be an organ, tissue, and eye donor here.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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