3Covering a Yawn and Saying "God Bless You" After a Sneeze Were to Stave Off a Horrific Death
The Traditions You Know:
At some point in human history, it became important for us to be overly concerned with the air intake of other humans. Think about it: When you yawn (which, having just read the word "yawn," you have an overwhelming urge to do right now), you feel irresistibly compelled to cover your mouth, because ever since you were a kid your mom told you that fully exposing your taco tunnel to everyone around you was just not a proper thing to do. And when the goo-flecked air is traveling in the opposite direction in the form of a sneeze, our instinctual reaction is to utter the phrase "God bless you" -- unless said sneeze happens to be aimed directly at your face, to which the societally accepted reaction is to administer a severe beating with the nearest rusty pipe.
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Good girl. You get to live another day. Now, let's work on your farting problem.
Where They Actually Come From:
Early Islamic cultures viewed yawning as an open invitation for Satan to slither his scaly way into your body, presumably to do really evil stuff like use your uvula as a punching bag while tickling your pancreas with his bifurcated tail. Meanwhile, in India, yawning was more of a two-way street: Not only did it allow bhuts (spirits) to enter your body and run amok with their spiritual shenanigans, but it also allowed a little bit of your own soul to escape. Luckily, we humans come equipped with a handy Satan/spirit/soul blocker at the end of each arm. That didn't do much good for infants with their little Jell-O hands, though, which is why early physicians instructed mothers to be constantly attentive to the task of covering their babies' yawns in order to prevent all their soul-stuff from leaking out.
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Which explains why hippos have no souls.
Now let's take an Indiana Jones-style plane jaunt over to medieval Europe, where covering yawns was less spiritual and more of an actual physical necessity. You see, with bubonic plague running rampant across the continent, unlatching your jaw and gulping in a heaping dose of your fellow man's filth was seen as a surefire way to become the next contestant on Watch Your Own Groin Rot Off. During this period, it became common to not only cover your gaping maw during a yawn, but also make the sign of the cross in front of it to ward off the invisible disease gremlins.
Similarly, the custom of saying "God bless you" after someone sneezes also finds its origins in the plague. That's because those who were infected could be identified by a few telltale symptoms, one of which was sneezing -- and since catching the plague was basically an inescapable death sentence, Pope Gregory instructed the populace to start blessing anyone who sneezed. Thus "God bless you" promptly replaced the previous refrain of "Good luck in the afterlife, motherfucker" and, incidentally, anyone with allergies suddenly found themselves with far fewer friends.
That's sign language for "Get the fuck out of my office."
2The Age of Adulthood Was Determined by When You Could Wear a Suit of Armor
The Tradition You Know:
For many Americans, becoming an adult means a night of regret-filled debauchery on their 21st birthday. Sure, they may have already been allowed to vote, fight a war, and star in porn prior to that, but goddammit, 21 is the age when Americans can drink alcohol and proudly strut down the street waving their official Adult Card all up in the face of every person they meet.
In six years, you'll finally be able to have your first ... oh, wait.
Where It Actually Comes From:
But why 21? Is it because that's when your body suddenly transmogrifies from a Lord of the Flies-style savage into an alcohol-metabolizing responsibility machine? Nope, the reason you're finally allowed to order a beer is because, a thousand years ago, that was the age at which you could finally become a maiden-savin' knight.
You get to shit in it and everything!
Back in the Middle Ages, warfare pretty much followed an "I stronger, you deader" philosophy, so the most elite units were heavily armored knights. And since clothes made entirely of metal tend to weigh a dragon-sized shit-ton, it was believed that only someone who had reached their 21st birthday could effectively carry that weight. Plus, the age of 21 was extra special because, based on some Aristotelian Greek bullshit, they thought that 7 was a divine number. Therefore, according to the Official Knight Users Manual, boys could become pages at 7, squires at 14, and knights at 21.
Age 25: Dragon friend!
As you may or may not have heard, we 'mericans were once British colonials, so this perceived importance of the age of 21 eventually filtered on down to us. So the next time someone you know turns 21, don't buy them a beer. Instead, slap some armor on them, strap them onto a horse, and send them off to fight some Lannisters ... or, seeing as how that's probably illegal wherever you live, just tell them that they had to wait until they turned 21 to consume alcohol because a medieval English common law said they were too much of a pussy to wear a suit of armor before that.