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The Art of Saying Thank You!

It’s that time of year again when we all reflect upon what we are thankful for in our lives.  Whatever it is you are expressing your gratitude about, from your health to your cherished loved ones or even a big life change, you are likely to use the oh-so-common everyday word of “thanks”.  While you are likely to say “thank you” several times throughout any given day, there’s more to saying thanks than you may realize.  How did this practice, which is an essential part of our interactions with other people, come to be?

The history of “Thank You”

If you begin to investigate the history of the phrase, you will discover that “thank you” is actually a derivative of the word “think”.  Dating back between c.450-c.1100 in Old English, the noun “thank” was defined as “a thought”.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it progressed to “favorable thought or feeling, good will” and then a “kindly thought or feeling entertained towards any one for favor or services received” by the Middle Ages, which is quite similar to the meaning it has in today’s modern vocabulary.  

How to express gratitude

In the English language, there are many different ways to express your thanks, with varying levels of formality, so there is an appropriate form no matter the situation you find yourself in.  For instance, in British English, the word “cheers” transformed from something you would only hear inside of a bar to a colloquial way of saying thanks that has nothing to do with drinking. You might also say “much obliged!” in more formal circumstances or phrases like “you’re too kind” or “I owe you” to show your gratitude.

Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to express your thanks either due to gratitude or indebtedness, which each have their place.  With gratitude, you want to show your appreciation or acknowledge someone for an act of help or kindness, while the sensation of being indebted to someone makes you feel as though you owe the person who helped you something in return.  Saying something like “I owe you a debt of gratitude” or “much obliged” convey the latter.



While other phrases like “I am very grateful” can express our thanks, the gold standard in English by far is still the simple “thank you”, which can be traced back to the fourteenth century, when a proper “I thank you” was used.  It is very common for our vocabulary to evolve over time, and words and phrases are often shortened or condensed.  No matter how you say it, though, expressing your gratitude is an important tradition that fuels healthy human relationships and ensures our society remains a more pleasant and harmonious one.

As you prepare to give thanks this Thanksgiving, remember what an important role it has in all of our lives every single day of the year.