Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The End of Hospitality is "Thank You"

In the beginning there was the swapping of I and me:

"You and me should go down to the levee."
"This is a story that affects you and I both."

Then came the use of apostrophe's in every word and it's dog.

Now, a far more sinister linguistic change has blown up in the media and, sadly, in day-to-day use: the thank you thank you.

As in:

Sawyer the Anchor: "Thanks, Bob, for reminding us that planes are still the safest way to travel."

Bob the Pundit: "Thank YOU, Sawyer."

What ever happened to "You're welcome"?

The answer is simple: "You're welcome" was collateral damage in the drive-by shooting of the Old World culture of hospitality and community by post-industrial soccer-mom gangastas and their Nintengat-wielding broodlings. The last thing "You're welcome" saw as it bled out through a gaping chest wound was a "My son is on the honor roll" bumper sticker and a discarded can of New Coke celebrating the wholesome antics of an atomic family of soon-to-be-endangered polar bears. No one mourned "You're welcome". Hell, "You're welcome" ended up on ice in the county morgue, then dumped into a pauper's grave at St. Mark's. No one liked "You're welcome" much, cause it got baggage. "You're welcome" always stank of the kind of open-ended, no-questions-asked obligation that the boundary-setting, social darwinist, New World Order folks hate the most.

The thank you thank you makes it clear: I am only doing this because it benefits me. I'm polite, so I'm thanking you for giving me this opportunity. But if you want me to throw down my expertise on another topic of interest to your viewers, I'd better get something in return.

Even shop keepers, when thanked by their customers, now give the thank you thank you. And what's so wrong with that? Well, first off, it's stating the obvious. You just gave them your money, they better be thankful. "You're welcome", on the other hand, says "Come by any time, look around, shoot the breeze. You don't have to buy anything, and I'll give each of your kids a hard candy and sit them up on the rocking horse in the corner."

"You're welcome" is about belonging. The thank you thank you is about quid pro quo. The thank you thank you says I owe you something. "You're welcome" says I will give you everything. In the Old World, that kind of hospitality bound communities with an invisible web of mutual benefit. In the New World Order, that kind of hospitality is too big a risk: we have too much of our own, too much to lose, and too little danger of losing what we have because we don't have strong social ties to our neighbors.

Or so it seems. Up in the arctic, the pack ice is melting.

2 comments:

walkitout said...

It is the centennial year of You're Welcome. So nice to see a wickedly wonderful diatribe in its defense against the encroaching, matching Thank Yous!

Source for the 1907 remark:

http://etymonline.com/?term=welcome

My limited experience of other cultures and other languages shows a certain theme to responses to Thank You: de rien, de nada, geen dank (Bitte Schon -- pretend there's an umlaut over that o -- is a bit of a mystery in this context. More like saying please in response to Thank You, which to us is every bit as confusing as having to say A.U.B. every time you offer something, but especially money, in Dutch). Returning to my point, the general idea of a response to expressed gratitude is to minimize (well, I suppose you could reply, you so owe me for this one and I'll be collecting later, but that's hardly the stuff of conventional politeness). The more flowery responses go further: you are welcome is an expression that the giving gave the giver pleasure as well.

Perhaps the matched thank you just short cuts that?

Peter LeSourd said...

Actually, the swapping of I and me has gone all the way to "me and Carl went down to the levee". Our seven year-old grandson, who reads and talks at a much higher level than his age, refuses to change that pattern even when we correct him. Why? Because all his friends talk that way too, and I suppose also because it puts "me" first, instead of "you and I".