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Does the word "bless" apply only to God? For example, can a human bless anything (such as "bless the day")? Or can only God bless?

Note, I am asking about the usage of the word "bless", and not about religion.

Is there a definition of the word bless that describes an accepted usage of the word in a secular way?

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The question is a bit confusing because either you're asking about the/a religious definition of bless and who can provide such (this would be a theological/religious/POV question) or you're asking about any definition of bless and who can provide such, at which point any non-religious definition of bless answers the question. –  SrJoven Aug 5 '14 at 15:35
    
Given that Christ fed the five thousand with loaves and fishes, is talking of bread and fish religious? If you are going to abandon anything that has religious origins or implications, a large portion of western culture and language will be out of bounds. For example what will you call the days that you now call 'holidays'? –  WS2 Aug 5 '14 at 16:48
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You are not asking about the use of the word bless, you asking who can bless. Anyone can use the word bless, otherwise it wouldn't exist. You have used bless in your very question. I do not understand this question. –  Matt E. Эллен Aug 5 '14 at 17:19
    
@MattЭллен Three other people apparently did understand. Answered and accepted and then closed, who benefits? –  Frank Aug 5 '14 at 17:54
    
@Frank perhaps you can phrase the question in a way that I can understand then. Anyone can edit. The basis of putting this on hold is so that it can be cleaned up into a workable state. "can a human bless something?" is not a question about usage. If this is a question about meaning, it should be edited as such, not left in a state where is contradicts itself. –  Matt E. Эллен Aug 5 '14 at 19:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Firstly, "bless" does indeed have a secular meaning, like many words borrowed from theological practices. As a programmer sometimes one program will "bless" a component or another program, so that the system knows going forward the blessed program is special in some way. Perhaps if there are conflicting instructions, only the blessed one should be listened to.

Priests often say "I bless you in the name of the Father..." which I will assert from an English language standpoint means the priest is doing the blessing, not God. For a theological standpoint, please consult your local priest.

The point is, of course it's a fluid word like any in English. And yes, it certainly makes sense for any entity with agency to bless anything else. The listener or reader does not need to be specifically knowledgeable of the secular usage to draw the proper metaphor and understand the blessed thing is now special, by declaration, on the authority of some shared belief in a higher power (whether it's the law, a computer system, or God.)

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The OED gives very extensive treatment to the verb 'bless'. I think that its meaning 7 is perhaps relevant to this question. Note that whilst it was 'originally said of God; in later use also of men and things'. In addition to the below the OED also mentions the popular saying about 'having a penny to bless oneself with', referring to a cross on an old silver penny. But I think meaning 7 is interesting. I have significantly edited the vast list of examples:

7. a. To confer well-being upon; ‘to make happy; to prosper, make successful’ (Johnson). Originally said of God; in later use also of men and things, but generally with an implication of their conferring instrumentally a divine blessing. (Here the association of bless with bliss becomes apparent.)

1549 Bk. Common Prayer (STC 16267) Matrimonie f. xvi*, Looke, O Lord, mercifully vpon them from heauen, and blesse them. 1600 Shakespeare Merchant of Venice iv. i. 183 It [sc. mercy] is twice blest, it blesseth him that giues, and him that takes. 1600 Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 2 i. ii. 223 God blesse your expedition. 1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics iv, in tr. Virgil Wks. 144 But she return'd no more, to bless his longing Eyes. 1715 Pope tr. Homer Iliad I. i. 144 When first her blooming Beauties blest my Arms. 1813 Byron Giaour 36, I have possesst, And come what may, I have been blest. 1847 Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xxxi. 274 ‘God bless the meat,’ said the Major's wife, solemnly. 1850 T. T. Lynch Memorials Theophilus Trinal v. 88 To say that good gives pleasure seems poor expression of the truth that it blesses us. (Hide quotations)

Thesaurus »

b. 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 = bliðsian (in bliss n.).)

1600 B. Jonson Every Man out of his Humor ii. iii. 70 She was blest with no more Copie of wit. 1606 Returne from Pernassus ii. v. sig. D2, I will blesse your eares with a very pretty story. a1616 Shakespeare Tempest (1623) ii. i. 130 You may thank your selfe..That would not blesse our Europe with your daughter. 1649 R. Baxter Saints Everlasting Rest (new ed.) iii. i. 266, I should..return him hearty thanks upon my knees, that ever he blessed his Word in my mouth with such desired success. 1712 J. Arbuthnot John Bull in his Senses iv. 15 Mrs. Bull..bless'd John with three daughters. 1767 J. Fordyce Serm. Young Women I. i. 14 Are you..blest with parents? 1845 P. J. Bailey Festus (ed. 2) 6 To bless him with salvation. (Hide quotations)

Therefore, in summary it does appear that a human being and an inanimate thing can 'bless' as subject of the verb, though usually with a suggestion, sometimes express sometimes implied, of the blessing being of divine origin

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I think there's a simpler answer for the example that you gave ("bless the day"): in this phrase, "bless" is in the subjunctive mood, i.e. the speaker is expressing their wish that a divine being of some sort should bestow blessings. Admittedly, it's not perfectly clear to me how anyone could "bless" a day, but I take this to be an idiomatic usage along the lines of "bless you", "bless your heart", or "bless its pointed little head".

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