[lit-ideas] "Bless you": a performative?

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 5 Aug 2004 12:48:53 EDT

In a message dated 8/5/2004 10:33:05 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
Mr.  Amago is probably unaware of the long and bitter dispute between  Mr.
Speranza and me.  Whereas Mr. Speranza insists (performatively --  
hilariously enough), that "Bless you" is a performative utterance, and  asks
(again, performatively, tee-hee) what warrants such  performativity.  I, on
the other hand, correctly correct him.   Balderdash, I suggest.  "Bless you"
is not a performative, but a  petition.  It is what I've famously termed an
ellipsistical.  It  means: "May God bless you and have mercy on your rancid
soul."    The idea of mere humans having the power to bless is blasphemous
and smacks  of Popery, something us Bilblebelters don't cotton to.  I hope
this  straightens this out this time.

I would grant that 'bless', while pseudo-performative, is what Geary calls  
an 'ellipsistical' (expression). 
For the record, I provide below some quotes from the OED, including the  
etym. of 'bless' (cognate with 'blood' -- make holy _with blood_) and some uses 
(such as "to bless yourself", to ejaculate "Bless me", and others -- including  
Geary's ellipsisticals).
As the OED notes, one of the problems with English 'bless' (cf. Bible  Belt) 
is that confuses 'blood' with Latin 'benedicere' (cf. malediction) and, to  
complicate matters further, with Hebrew, "brk," to bend (the knee), resulting 
 a pretty mess of multifarious significations. While some of these verbs are 
not  performative (to bend a knee), some are, etc. -- making the issue very  
complicated. A further confussion is 'bless' with 'bliss' (as in 'blissed' with 
 happiness), which has nothing to do with 'bless' with blood, etc., although 
it  is pronounced similarly. 
The alleged 'peformative' use of bless is phrased in the OED as:
"To pronounce words that confer (or are held to confer) supernatural favour  
and well-being.    a. Said of a superior, i.e. of one entitled to  speak in 
God's name, a priest or sacred person (e.g. Balaam, Moses), an aged or  dying 
parent (e.g. Isaac, Jacob); also of God himself. When said of men, the  sense 
has passed into that of officially or paternally commending to divine  
protection and favour."
Geary calls this balderdash, therefore ignores the 14 relevant cites  
(starting with King Alfred) that the OED collects to support the use. -- Are 
you glad 
Julie Krueger asked? 
While the OED makes no mention of sneeze (_mailto:oed3@xxxxxxx 
(mailto:oed3@xxxxxx) ), it does mention that in some  of the ellipsisticals, 
'bless you' (as 
uttered by a 'bless-begger' you deny a  monetary contribution) it could 
actually mean the opposite: 'damn you' -- cf.  Biblical Belt -- and making 
worse for the literalist (or  religious-minded). 
-- Cheers,
From the OED
OE. bloedsian, bledsian, bletsian: not found elsewhere in Teutonic, but  
formed on the OTeut. type blodisoyan, f. blodom (OE. blod) blood: cf. OE.  
mildsian, miltsian, ME milce, to be mild, show pity; also,  for the formation, 
ricsian to rule = OHG. richison OTeut. rikisojan, f. riks, Goth. reiks  ruler, 
king. (An equally satisfactory derivation of bletsian, if it were the  original 
form, would be from blot, sacrifice, on OTeut. type blotisojan; but  besides 
that bloedsian actually occurs earlier, the change of ds to  ts is 
phonetically natural, while the reverse is not.) 
The etymological meaning was thus â??to mark (or affect in some way) with  
blood (or sacrifice); to consecrateâ??. But the sense-development of the word 
greatly influenced by its having been chosen at the Eng. conversion to render 
L.  benedicere, and Gr. eulogein, which started from a primitive sense of â??
speak  well of or to, eulogize, praise,â?? but were themselves influenced by 
chosen  to translate Heb. brk, primarily â??to bend,â?? hence â??to bend the 
worship,  praise, bless God, invoke blessings on, bless as a deity.â?? Hence, a 
long and  varied series of associations, heathen, Jewish, and Christian, blend 
in the Eng.  uses of bless and blessing. Senses 4-6 arise mainly from 
benedicere,  eulogein. At a very early date the popular etymological 
began to  associate this verb with the n. bliss â??benignity,  blitheness, joy, 
happiness,â?? which affected the use of both words (see esp.  senses 7, 8), and 
to occasional ME. spelling of the vb. with i, y. 
The pa. tense and pple. are now generally spelt  blessed, though always 
pronounced blest in modern  prose [except for the occasional Geary Sunday Poem, 
where it is pronounced,  blessEd]; the pple. may be pronounced blesid in  
or liturgical reading. As an adj. blessed /blesid/ is now the regular prose 
form, but the  archaic blest is frequent in verse, and traditional phrases as 
e.g. â??the  Isles of the Blest.â??]  

Orig. meaning (prob.), To make â??sacredâ?? or â??holyâ?? with blood; to 
 by some sacrificial rite which was held to render a thing inviolable from  
profane use of men and evil influence of men or demons. (The streaking of the  
lintel and doorposts with blood, Exod. xii. 23, to mark them as holy to the 
Lord  and inviolable by the destroying angel, was apparently the kind of idea  
expressed by blóedsian in pre-christian times. Cf. also the history of  the 
Latin words consecrare and sacrificium) Hence, in historical use:  
To make sacred, consecrate, hallow.  
To consecrate (a thing) by a religious rite, the utterance of a formula or  
charm; in later times by a prayer committing it to God for his patronage,  
defence, and prospering care, as in to bless food, to ask God's blessing on it 
(cf. 5). 

1000 Ags.  Gosp. Matt. xxvi. 26 Se Hælend nam hlaf and hyne  bletsode and 
Sec. c1200  _ORMIN_ 
17193 att waterr att iss att te funnt Blettcedd  i Godes 
wordess. 1377 _LANGL._ 
P. Pl. B.  XI. 229 Tyl he blessed and brak  e bred at ei 
eten. c1400  Apol. Loll. 30 If e prest sacre Crist wan he  prest e sacrament of 
God in e auter. a1593  _H. SMITH_ 
 Serm. (1637) 376 Before  thou hast 
blessed it with prayer, thou hast no promise it shall prosper. 1596 _SHAKES._ 
Merch. V.  III. ii. 79. 1637 _GILLESPIE_ 
  Eng. Pop. Cerem.  IV. iv. 20 It was 
behoofefull for  their cause, distinctly and severally to blisse those 
Elements. 1649 _MILTON_ (http://0-dictio
nary.oed.com.csulib.ctstateu.edu/help/bib/oed2-m3.html#milton)  Eikon. Wks. 
1738 I. 427  Where the Master is too resty, or 
too rich to..bless his own  Table. 1798 _SOUTHEY_ 
 Bp. Bruno Wks. VI. 149  
And now the bishop had blest the  meat.
To consecrate (a person) to a sacred  office. 

1154 O.E.  Chron. (Laud MS.) a was he [Henry II] to king bletcæd in  Lundene. 
c1420  Chron. Vilod. 563 And was  blessud Abbas in t same place. Ibid. 1168 
en was Alfyne y blessud Abbas of  t  plase.

To sanctify  or hallow by making the sign of the cross; usually as a defence 
against evil  agencies. esp. refl. and absol. To cross oneself. 

950 Lindisf. Gosp. John  viii. 48 Ahne bloedsade ue usic vel  <Nnade 
[mistransl. of nonne bene  dicimus nos?] a1225  Ancr. R. 290 Breid up ene rode 
stef, & 
sweng him  ean a uour  a uoene helle dogge. et nis nout elles bute blesce  e 
al abuten mid te eadie rode tocne. c1500  Yng. Children's Bk. in Babees  Bk. 
(1868) 17 Aryse be tyme oute of thi bedde,  And blysse i brest & thi forhede. 
1562 _J. HEYWOOD_ 
  Prov. & Epigr. (1867) 91, I nother nod for sleepe..nor 
blisse for spirites. 1577 _HOLINSHED_ 
  Chron. I. 157/2 Blesse  your eies 
with the signe of the crosse, and trie whether you can see that I see. 1653 
 Rabelais  I. xxxv, When they heard these words,  some..blest 
themselves with both hands, thinking..that he had been a devil  disguised. 1719 
M. W. MONTAGUE Lett. II. xlvii. 47, I  fancy I see you bless yourself at this 
terrible relation.

to  bless oneself from: see 3b.  
to bless into, out:  to change into, cast out, by making the sign of the  

1534 _MORE_ 
Passion Wks. (1557) 1273/1 When the dyuell fyrste casteth any 
proude vayne thoughte into our  mynd..let vs forthwith make a crosse on our 
breast, and blesse it oute. 1589 _NASHE_ 
Pasquils Ret. Wks. 1885 I. 93 One Pope or 
other..blest me into a stone to stoppe my mouth.
d. not  to have a penny to bless oneself with: in  allusion to the cross on 
the silver penny (cf. Ger. Kreuzer), or to the  practice of crossing the palm 
with a piece of silver.  

1557 _NORTH_ 
Gueuara's Diall Pr. (1619) 625/2 The pestilence of penny..he 
hath in his purse to blesse himself  with. 1562 _J. HEYWOOD_ 
  Prov. & Epigr. 
(1867) 73 He had not..one peny to blisse him. 1861 _GEO.  ELIOT_ 
  Silas M., 
I have not a  shilling to bless myself  with.

humorously  (with allusion to holy water.)  

1609 Man in  the Moone 11 Bless his beard with a bazen of  water, least he 
burne  it.

To protect or  guard, save, keep from (evil): said of God, supernatural 
influence, a  charm or prayer; also loosely of other  things. 

c1175  Lamb. Hom. 59 From alle . uuele  he scal blecen us. 1543 _BECON_ 
Y. Gift Wks. (1843) 315 With such I love not to meddle. God bless me from 
them! 1594 _NASHE_ 
Unfort. Trav. 43 Kisse  the ground as holy ground which she 
vouchsafed to blesse from barrennes by her  steppes. 1594 _SHAKES._ 
Rich. III,  
III. iii. 5 God blesse the Prince from  all the Pack of you. 1596 _SPENSER_ 
 F.Q.  I. ii. 18 Glauncing down his shield  from blame him fairly blest. 1632 
Penseroso 83 Or the  bellmans drowsy charm To bless the doors from 
nightly harm. 1646 _FULLER_ 
Wounded Consc. (1841) 349 God bless you and 
yours from fire. 1650 _BP.  HALL_ 
Cases Consc. 181  Doubtlesse, the Devill is a 
most skilfull Artist..but God blesse  us from imploying him. 1855 _KINGSLEY_ 
  Westw. Ho! ii. (Traditional  Spell) â??Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless 
the bed that I  lie on.â??

To guard  oneself (with God's help) from, keep out of the way of, give a wide 
berth  to, shun, eschew. (Sometimes, probably, by crossing oneself, as in 
sense  2.) 

c1449  _PECOCK_ 
Repr.  III. xix. 411 If thilk doctor..hadde  blessid him 
silf fro this.. perel. 1530 _PALSGR._ 
458/1,  I wyll never medle with hym, if I 
may blesse me from hym. 1549 _CHALONER_ 
  Erasm. Moriæ Enc. Eivb,  Whiche of 
you woulde not lothe and blisse you from the company of  suche maner a man. 
1618 _RALEIGH_ 
Rem. (1644) 97 From  Suretieship, as from a Man-slayer, or 
Enchanter, blesse thy self. 1622 _FLETCHER_ 
 Span. Curate  I. i. 27 Blesse 
yourselves from the  thought of him and her. 1651 _MORE_ 
Enthus. Triumph. (1656) 
172 Bless thee from madness, Tom, and all will be well. 1753 _SMOLLETT_ 
Fathom (1784) 137/2  He blessed himself from such  customers.
To hold or call holy; to extol as holy (see Isa. vi. 3, Rev. iv. 8), divine,  
gracious. To call holy; to extol, praise, or adore (God) as holy,  worthy of 

1000 Cædmon's  Daniel 400 (Gr.) We ec  <NOBR>, Fæder , Fæder. c1000  Ags. 
Psalter xcv[i]. 2  <NOBR nu drihtne and his  nne naman bealde  naman . c1175  
Lamb. Hom. 57 i nome beo iblecced. c1305  Deo Gratias in E.E.P. (1862) 125 To 
onke and blesse hym we be bounde. 1382 _WYCLIF_ 
Jas iii. 9 In it we  blessen 
God the fadir, and in it we cursen men. 1593 _HOOKER_ 
Eccl. Pol.  I. iii. §4 
The Creator..alone to be  blessed, adored and honoured of all for ever. 1651 
Leviath.  II. xxxi. 189 The subject of  Magnifying and Blessing, 
being Power. 1825 _J. MONTGOMERY_ 
  Hymn â??Stand up and blessâ?? 6 Stand up 
and bless the Lord, The Lord your God adore.
with an added notion of thanksgiving or acknowledgement of gracious  
beneficence or goodness: To praise or extol with grateful heart; â??to glorify 
benefits receivedâ?? (J.)    a. orig. God or his attributes. 

1000 Ags.  Gosp. Luke i. 68 Gebletsod [Lindisf.  ebloedsad] sí drihten 
israhela god,  sm e he eneosode. 1382 _WYCLIF_ 
ibid. Blessid be the  Lord God of 
Israel for..[CRANMER, Praysed  be]. c1440  York Myst. xii. 217 Blest be  ou ay, 
For e grace ou has me lente. 1526 Pilgr.  Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 251 To laude 
and blesse god  for his goodnes. 1596 _SHAKES._ 
Tam. Shr.  IV. v. 18 Then 
God be blesst, it is  the blessed Sunne. 1795 _SOUTHEY_ 
 Joan of Arc  II. 309, 
I..blest my God I was not  such as he. 1843 _NEALE_ 
Hymns for Sick 44 But  
Thy But Oh give me grace to bless It every  hour!

other  influences, e.g. one's stars, one's fortune or luck, the day of one's 
birth,  etc. Now generally in a more or less ludicrous sense: To thank, 
attribute one's  good fortune to. 

1440 Ywaine  & Gaw. 3344 Folk..blissed the time that he  was born. a1845  
Pauper's Christmas Carol iii, Ought not I to bless my stars? 1846 Punch 
IX. 13 Let me bless my  prudence.

persons:  see 6b, which sometimes passes into â??praise or extol with grateful 
To declare to be supernaturally favoured; to pronounce  or make happy.  
To pronounce words that confer (or are held to confer)  supernatural favour 
and well-being.    a. Said of a superior, i.e. of one entitled to  speak in 
God's name, a priest or sacred person (e.g. Balaam, Moses), an aged or  dying 
parent (e.g. Isaac, Jacob); also of God himself. When said of men, the  sense 
passed into that of officially or paternally commending to divine  protection 
and favour. 

1000 _Ã?LFRIC_ 
Gen. xxvii. 4 Bring me  æt ic ete, and ic e  <NOBRe ær am e 
ic swelte. c1000  Ags. Gosp. Mark x. 16 a beclypte he hí, and his handa ofer 
 settende bletsode [Lindisf. ebledsade, Rushw. ibletsade, Hatton bletsede] 
hi. c1205 LAY. 32157 Me and mine Me a he scal  he scaen & scriue. a1300  Cursor 
M. 637 God ham blesset  and bad ham brede, and multiply. c1383  _WYCLIF_ 
Sel. Wks. III. 323  ei cursen hem at God  God . 1388  Numb. xxiii. 11 What is 
this  that thou doist? Y clepide thee that thou schuldist curse myn enemyes, 
Wenward thou blessist hem [1382  blessest to hem]. c1410  _LOVE_ 
Mirr. xv. 38 (Gibbs MS.), After he hadde i blessed hem wente vppe Aayne to 
heuene. 1549 Bk. Com.  Prayer, Confirm., Then shal the Busshop blisse  the 
children, thus saying. 1810 _SCOTT_ 
Lady of L.  III. vii, Stood prompt to bless or ban.

Of one not a  superior: Piously to invoke God's blessing upon, to commend 
gratefully and  affectionately to God's favour, to load with one's devout good 
wishes; to speak  well of and wish well to. 

1330 _R. BRUNNE_ 
  Chron. (1810) 97, I  blisse Anselme erfore. c1330  Amis 
& Amil. 344 Men blisted  him, bothe bon and blod, That euer him gat and bare. 
1613 _SHAKES._ 
Hen. VIII,  III. i. 54 To taint that honor euery  good Tongue 
blesses. 1667 _MILTON_ (http://0-dictionary.oed.com.csu
lib.ctstateu.edu/help/bib/oed2-m3.html#milton)  P.L. x. 821 So  disinherited 
how would ye bless Me 
now your Curse! 1712 _STEELE_ 
Spect. No. 264 1 The Fatherless..and  the 
Stranger bless his unseen Hand in their Prayers. 1742 _W. COLLINS_ 
  Ode vi, By 
all their  country's wishes blest. 1850 _TENNYSON_ 
 In Mem. cxix, I..think  
of early days and thee, And bless  thee.

To confer  well-being upon; â??to make happy; to prosper, make successfulâ?? 
(J.): orig.  said of God; in later use also of men and things, but generally 
an  implication of their conferring instrumentally a divine blessing. (Here 
the  association of bless with bliss becomes apparent.)  

a1000  Cædmon's Gen. 2357 (Gr.) Ic  Ismael estum wille bletsian. a1300  Hymn 
to God 16 in Trin. Coll.  Hom. App. 258 Louerd u vs blesce. 1388 _WYCLIF_ 
Gen. xxxix. 5 And the  Lord blesside the hows [1382 to the hows] of Egipcian 
Joseph. 1549 Bk. Com.  Prayer, Matrim., Look, O Lord, mercifully upon  them 
from heaven, and bless them. 1578 Gude  & Godlie Ballates (1868) 65 Blis, 
blissit  God, thir giftes gude Quhilk thow hes geuin to be our fude. 1596 
  Merch. V.  IV. i. 186 It [mercy] is twice blest,  It blesseth him that 
giues, and him that takes. 1597  2 Hen. IV,  I. ii. 248 Heauen blesse your  
Expedition. 1697 _DRYDEN_ 
Virg. Georg.  IV. 729 But she return'd no more, to  
bless his longing Eyes. 1718 _POPE_ 
Iliad  I. 144 When first her blooming  
beauties bless'd my arms. 1813 _BYRON_ 
Giaour 1115, I have  possess'd, And come what 
may, I have been blest. 1848 _THACKERAY_ 
  Van. Fair xxxi, â??God  bless the 
meat,â?? said the Major's wife, solemnly. 1850 _LYNCH_ 
Theo. Trin. v. 88 To say 
 that good gives pleasure seems poor expression of the truth that it blesses 

To make happy  with some gift: orig. of God as the giver; also of persons or  
things. (In the first example, blitsian may be really = <NOsian, _BLISS_ 
dmK1-3719&result_place=1&xrefed=OED&xrefword=bliss) .) 

a831 Charter of Oswulf (Sweet O.E.T. 444) aette e sien eblitsude mid em 
weorldcundum godum.] 1598 _B. JONSON_ 
 Ev. Man out of Hum. II. iii, Shee was 
blest with no more  copie of wit. 1602 Return  fr. Parnass. II. v. (Arb.) 30, I 
will blesse your eares with a very pretty story. 1610 _SHAKES._ 
Temp. II. i. 
124 You may thank your selfe..That would not blesse our Europe with  your 
daughter. 1650 _BAXTER_ 
Saint's R.  III. (1654) 4 Return him hearty thanks  upon 
my knees, that ever he blessed his Word in my mouth with such..success. 1712 
  John Bull (1755) 30 Mrs.  Bull..blessed John with three 
daughters. 1767 _FORDYCE_ (http://0-dictionary.oed.com.csulib.ctstateu.edu/he
lp/bib/oed2-f2.html#fordyce)  Serm. Yng. Wom. I. i. 14 Are you..blest with 
1839 _BAILEY_ 
Festus i, To bless him  with salvation.

To  account or call oneself supremely happy; to congratulate or felicitate 
oneself,  with, in, that.  

1611 BIBLE  Jer. iv. 2 The nations shall  blesse themselues in him, and in 
him shall they glorie. 1674 _N. FAIRFAX_ 
  Bulk & Selv. To Rdr., I..blisst my 
self that I was there. 1684 _BUNYAN_ 
Pilgr.  II. (1879) 246 Old men have 
blessed  themselves with this mistake. 1839 _BAILEY_ 
Festus iv, To..bask, and  
bless myself, Upon the broad bright  bosom.

In ME., and  above all by Wyclif, bless was construed with to, app. in  
imitation of benedicere alicui of the Vulgate.  

a1300  Cursor M. 17890 To oure lord  iesu crist e blisse. c1380  _WYCLIF_ 
Serm. Sel. Wks. II. 249  Cristene men shulden blesse to Cer at pursuen hem 
here. 1382  Gen. i. 21 And God..blisside to  hem, seiynge, Growith, etc. Ibid. 
xii. 3, I shal  blis to thoo that blissen  thee.

Exclamatory,  elliptical and ironical uses.  
In exclamatory invocations and ejaculations of surprise;    a. in sense 3, as 
God bless me! elliptically bless me! bless 
(also save) the mark! (see _MARK_ 
fword=mark) ).    b. in sense 7, as (God)  bless you!  

a. 1590 _SHAKES._ 
Mids. N.  IV. ii. 14 A Paramour is (God blesse  vs) a 
thing of nought. 1646 _MILTON_ 
Sonn. xi. 5 Cries the  stall-reader, â??Bless us! 
what a word on A title-page is this!â?? 1709 _STEELE_ 
Tatler No. 25 10 Bless 
me! Sir,  there's no Room for a Question. 1752 _C. LENNOX_ 
 Fem. Quix. I.  
III. v. 161 â??Lord bless me, madam!â??  said Lucy, excessively astonished. 
 Mart. Chuz. v. 50 â??Bless  my life!â?? said Mr. Pecksniff, looking 
up. 1849  Dav. Copp. xii. 138 â??Bless and  save the manâ??..â??how he 
talks!â?? 1851 
King Gold. Riv. i. (1856) 12 â??Bless my soul!â?? said Schwartz when 
he opened the door.

b. 1588 _SHAKES._ 
L.L.L. II. i. 77 God blesse my Ladies, are they all in 
loue? 1732 _FIELDING_ 
 Miser  V. i. (1775) 67 Bless her heart! good  lady! 
1840 _MARRYAT_ 
 Poor Jack xxix, Bless  you, my child, bless you! 1872 _RUSKIN_ 
 Fors Clav. II. xx. 8 The  Colonel might have said â??Bless you, my 
in the tenderest tones.

Hence, to bless oneself: to ejaculate â??God bless me!â?? or  other exclamation 
of surprise, vexation, or mortification.  

1615 _T. ADAMS_ 
Black Dev. 71 He..would  blesse himselfe to think that so 
little a thing could extend itself to such a  capacity. 1665 _PEPYS_ 
Diary 1 
Apr., How my  Lord Treasurer did bless himself, crying he could do no more, etc.
In many senses (esp. 5b, 7, 8, 9, 10) bless is used euphemistically or  
ironically for a word of opposite meaning, â??curse, damn,â?? etc.  

1812 _JANE  AUSTEN_ 
  Mansf. Park xviii, Could  Sir Thomas look in upon 
us just now, he would bless himself. 1838 _DICKENS_ 
 O. Twist xiii, An  
emphatic and earnest desire to be â??blessedâ?? if she would. 1878 _H. SMART_ 
or Pay viii. (ed. 3) 156 Fuming, blessing himself, dashing himself.

Comb.,  as <NOBR>bless-,  a thing to bless a beggar with. (ironical.)  

1589 _R. HARVEY_ 
  Pl. Perc. (1860) 33 My  quarter staffe, is it not a 
blesse-begger thinke  you?


To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: