Hello and welcome to yet another week of half-truths and white lies here at Factually Deficient! This week, I will answer a question posed to Factually Deficient by my very own mother! She asked:
Why do we say “Excuse me” when we burp, but “Bless you” when someone sneezes?
My mother is astutely observing an oddity in the traditional spoken responses to two remarkably similar physiological processes. Why does the burper speak, while the sneezer is spoken to? Why is the burper excused, and the sneezer blessed? The answers lie in the inherent nature of these two similar yet different actions.
When a person burps, what is actually happening is that their body is expanding as they swallow air. Hence the sound that burping makes – you will notice that it is not dissimilar to the sound of a balloon being blown up. As your body expands, like any expanding object, it temporarily occupies more space. Thus, people who burp need, in polite circles, to ask to be excused – just as you would ask to be excused if you were entering an already-crowded location. They are excusing the extra space that they take up in that moment.
Sneezing, on the other hand, is a spiritual endeavour. And while both burping and sneezing are similar processes in appearance, they are in fact in some ways total opposites: burps take in air, whereas sneezes expel it.
More specifically, a sneeze is an attempt on the body’s part to expel the most base and profane particles cluttering its frame, in order to commune with something higher. It violently throws outside of itself its shallow thoughts, its earthly worries, with the hope that, in so doing, it will attain something more. It is in this understanding that people wish sneezers well with “Bless you” – it is an acknowledgement of the person’s lofty goal, and a non-denominational, non-judgemental prayer that they achieve it.
Disclaimer: the above post is a work of fiction. Actual results may vary.