By Dan Verner
I don’t know if anyone besides English teachers and linguists pays a lot of attention to language phrasing or usage or vocabulary. I certainly do, but I’m a language professional, so please don’t try this at home. Recently I’ve been noticing what people say when I tell them “Thank you.” Some say, “You’re welcome,” while others use a variety of phrases. I have to confess that I don’t always say “you’re welcome,” but say “no problem” or “certainly” or something of that ilk.
Back in the Pleistocene Era when I was in elementary school, part of the teachers’ purpose was to civilize the barefoot ragamuffins under their care. So, part of the curriculum was devoted to etiquette: how to make proper introductions using correct forms of address, how to answer an adult (I still say “Yes, m’am” and “Yes, sir” to people younger than I am), how to answer the telephone and respond to the caller, and, of course, what to say when someone does something for you. The necessity of saying “Please” and “thank you” was drilled into our brains. By the way, the teachers did not tell us that “please” and “thank you” were “magic words.” They were far too tough and committed to their task for that kind of namby-pamby nonsense. I’m glad they were, because I would have felt very uncomfortable saying “What’s the magic word?” to one of my buddies at recess when he said, “Gimme the basketball!” There are some fortuitous circumstances we find ourselves in, and this was one of them. However, I cannot for the life of me remember a similar emphasis on “You’re welcome.” Maybe that’s why I generally say most anything in place stead of “you’re welcome,” and don’t use what I consider the polite and proper phrase consistently. This troubles me and makes me sad.
I posed this burning question on Facebook to see what my social media friends would say on the matter. And they had a lot to say on the matter. FB friends are like that. Over thirty of them responded to my question, citing a variety of expressions they used in placed of “you’re welcome.” Some insisted that it was the only correct response. Others used phrases such as “you got it,” “sure!” (informally), “sure thing,” “anytime,” “all right,” “have a good day,” “mmm- hmm,” “my pleasure,” “got it,” “you bet,” “O. K.,” “of course,” or “think nothing of it.” Some of the younger set reported using “n. p.” for “no problem.” Some of my young FB friends suggested that the “like” button would in certain circumstances mean “you’re welcome,” although I’m too old to understand how this works. And then there were the sophisticates who reported using foreign languages to say, “de nada,” “de rien,” or “rien,” “pas de quoi,” “bitteschön,” or simply “bitte.” A note: “bitte” means both “please” and “you’re welcome” in German. No wonder I was confused.
I found it interested that the responses did not correlate with age. As many older people used something other than “you’re welcome” as younger folks.
I don’t know where I stand, finally on this matter. I probably will continue to feel deficient when I don’t say “you’re welcome,” but it’s a matter of habit, and I recently broke a fifty-year habit of braking with my left foot. If I can do that, I can say “you’re welcome” consistently.
And in the end, does it matter what anyone says in response as long as they answer politely? I feel deficient every time I don’t say “You’re welcome,” but no one seems to notice. But then, some people don’t say anything at all in response to “Thank you,” so I suppose I’m not such a bad guy after all.
So, thank you for reading this. My mind’s ear is imagining a chorus of “you’re welcome,” “you got it,” “sure,” “sure thing,” “anytime,” “all right,” “have a good day,” “mmm- hmm,” “my pleasure,” “got it,” “you bet,” “O. K.,” “of course,” “think nothing of it,” “n. p.” (for “no problem) and the “like” button on Facebook. It’s your choice!