WTF Fun Fact 12659 – The Dancing Plague

The summer of 1518 was a weird one in part of the Holy Roman Empire. A plague of sorts broke out in July in the city of Strasbourg, and its main symptom was giving people the uncontrollable urge to dance.

It all began with a woman called Frau Troffea, who was seen stepping out into the street and twisting and twirling all alone to no music at all. Multiple sources say she danced for a week.

When others joined her, it wasn’t to keep the party going. They couldn’t help themselves. They danced until they literally couldn’t dance anymore – either because their feet were broken or bleeding or because they passed out or even died of a heart attack.

It’s said that by August, nearly 400 because afflicted with the mysterious and destructive desire to dance themselves to death. By September, officials had taken the remaining dancers to a mountain shrine…allegedly to pray away their affliction.

To say doctors handled it poorly is both an understatement and a bit unfair, considering the world had no germ theory of disease yet. Some blamed foot, others called it a “hysteria,” and some local physicians blamed it on “hot blood” that made bodies try to gyrate out the fever. They even had stages built, and professional dancers brought in to try to ease whatever was happening in people’s bodies and minds. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.

In what probably seemed like a good idea at the time but feels a bit cringy to think about now, the town hired some backup musicians. That didn’t work either (and it probably made things worse).

A dance marathon sounds like fun and games until people start dying, and reports say they did by the dozens.

Similar dance plagues happened throughout the empire, but none were as extensive and well-documented as the 1518 incident.

The best explanation we have is that it was such a stressful time in Strasbourg that summer (disease and famine were rampant) that it triggered hysteria around the city that manifested as dancing because of St. Vitus, a Catholic saint people believed had the power to curse them with a dancing plague. –  WTF fun facts

Source: “What was the dancing plague of 1518?” —

WTF Fun Fact 12582 – Blessing a Sneeze

When someone sneezes, it seems rude not to acknowledge it in some way. In fact, saying “bless you” or “God bless you” has become a part of modern etiquette.

But where did this come from?

Most people have been told that the habit comes from the belief that the soul momentarily separates from the body during a sneeze. Therefore, “bless you” is a way of sending your best wishes their way in case the soul doesn’t come back. Some also believe that blessing the soul prevents it from being snatched up by evil spirits while it was disconnected from the body during a sneeze.

But it’s likely that the origin of “God bless you” goes back to 590 AD when a plague was ravaging Europe. Sneezing was often the first sign that someone was ill (and while they didn’t realize it at the time, it was also the way the plague spread). In order to bless the would of those who may get deathly ill, Pope Gregory the Great commanded that sneezing people be given a quick blessing.

While “God bless you” and “bless you” go back to the 6th century, the acknowledgment of a sneeze goes back even further – by hundreds of years. Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his 77 AD Natural History:

“Why is it that we salute a person when he sneezes, an observation which Tiberius Caesar, they say, the most unsociable of men, as we all know, used to exact, when riding in his chariot even?”

The superstition predates the pope, but Pliny offers no explanation as to why the sneeze was acknowledged.

Of course, there are secular ways of acknowledging a sneeze as well. Those who don’t believe in disembodied souls can keep it polite with a quick “gesundheit.”

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Why We Feel Compelled to Say ‘Bless You’ When Someone Sneezes” — The New York Times