Reporting a Verbal Disappearance

Sometimes, you notice when a new word or phrase enters the language.

For example, I can still remember the first time I heard the word “Google” used as a verb. A friend of mine mentioned it in an email — casually, but with some kind of in-the-know authority. Since she lives in New York and is a bigtime media person, I took notice. I started Googling instead of searching and took pains to use the term as frequently as possible, just to let everybody know I wasn’t entirely backward.

Aside from that, I’m a little fussy about words, I have to admit. I once went completely ballistic in a business meeting over the misuse of a word, so I’m not above making a scene now and then. But, for the most part, I grit my teeth and smile, because that is the Southern female way. When you’ve been so indoctrinated by politeness that you apologize when you bump into a tree, what else can you do?

But anyway, that brings me to my point (kind of, so don’t get picky), which is really about words and phrases disappearing from language. I need to report a phrase currently missing from the English language: You’re welcome.

Where did it go? Why? How? What’s suddenly become so wrong with saying “you’re welcome”?

“Thank you for being on our show,” the mellifluous-voiced NPR anchor says to some guest or another.

“Thank you for having me,” the guest answers.

I immediately start to get dizzy. Has everybody thanked everybody else enough? Isn’t there a chance the anchor will feel compelled to say, “No, really, thank you,” which will set off an echo chamber of back-and-forth thank-yous much like the mirror images stretching to eternity that used to make me go crazy in dressing rooms when I was a kid? Yes, I’m afraid so.

But that’s the older generation. The younger generation, of course, has settled on saying, “No problem!” every time you thank them. I would complain about that, but everybody my age has already bitched and whined about it and I like to kid myself that I still have a shred of originality.

So, I’m thinking “No problem!” is really no problem. After all, it’s reminiscent of the Spanish de nada and the French de rien, and who am I to complain about the Romance languages?

But I still miss “You’re welcome.” It somehow vanished from our everyday language, like a dinner guest who’s stayed too long and gets unceremoniously eased out the front door. Sometimes I think I’ll be the only one left standing who still remembers it, just as I’m the only person on earth who recalls the Milwaukee Braves and Fizzies and spoolies and the theme song to “Bonanza” and the six wives of Henry VIII and Scarlett O’Hara’s first name and Gregg shorthand.

It’s a heavy cultural burden, but I’ll bear it gladly. You’re grateful to me, I know. And you know exactly how I’ll respond when you thank me.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

23 comments… add one
  • Oh, Ruth, how dreadful! I had not noticed the phrase, “you’re welcome” was on a sharp decline in verbal usage. However, take heart! In my Southern domain, the phrase has not slipped from written usage. I know! I have been waging a war against the improper spelling of that phrase ever since I learned the proper use of contractions and pronouns in school. I become apoplectic every time I see the phrase written as “your welcome” instead of the correct “you’re welcome.” For quite a while I have even been saying and writing “you are welcome” to draw attention to other people’s misuse of the pronoun in that phrase. I see it everywhere. In newspapers– especially in advertising copy, on public bulletin board notes, on personally received cards, letters and e-mails. Everywhere! I especially hate seeing “your welcome” in print. Because people see the mistake in printed matter– newspapers, magazines, flyers– they assume it must be spelled correctly and continue merrily along in their own ignorance. I have suffered many a headache from banging my head against walls and cursing the proliferation of lax copy editors. I have taken many a friend aside, and in confidential quarters, explained to each one the use of “you’re” vs. “your,” enlightening each, while pointing out the error of their ways along with my heartfelt desire to keep each of them from making a public fool of themselves. It’s been a long, arduous war with no end in sight.

    Meanwhile, thank you for reporting this sharp decline in the verbal usage of “you’re welcome.” And, Ruth, please continue saying “excuse me” to any tree you bump into. Southern niceties are about the only hope to which we have to cling.

  • You’re right about this and I think that phrase has almost has come to have a bit of smugness attached to — “yeah, you SHOULD be thanking me.” Or at least maybe that is the perception? Which is why people always reply to a thank you with some other kind of thank you, so as to appear generous.

  • Steve

    This causes me to question my own typical response, which I suspect is “You bet.” I’ve no idea where that came from or why I say it or when I began saying it.

    On relfection, it’s not true that I have NO idea. I would like to think it comes from my young-at-heart nature and my frequent association with the younger generation that has abandoned “you’re welcome.” But it likely came from my father. He had several speech peculiarities, and I hear him every day in my own speech patterns. Like my “where-in-Texas-are-you-from?” accent, I am comfortable with that reality.

  • Uh-Oh. I often say something like, “Of course.” I do, however, routinely thank people. In fact, sometimes I panic and worry that I may have forgotten to say, “Thank you.” And, when I got look at a note or whatever, I realize … of course … I did thank them … because it’s just part of who I am.

    I’ll have to work on this one: “You’re welcome.”

  • M.K.

    OMG, spoolies! I would probably have gone the rest of my life without ever once thinking of them. And Fizzies. Thank you.

  • Have never been a fan of the phrase “you’re welcome.” It’s a cultural thing. Much prefer to say “my pleasure.” Try it and see what you think.

  • b condra

    And I will also say ‘Thank you’ to whoever develops Beer flavored Fizzies…can it get any better than that? I think not…

  • zkwitney

    Odd coincidence: I was just informed that my daughter’s British mother-in-law, visiting from East Sussex, complained that the
    Americans are always saying “You’re welcome” to her “Thank you”.
    I take it that the Brits don’t say anything in response.

  • The variation of response to “thank you” that drives me nuts, and that is very New York, is “Yeah.”
    -“Thanks!”
    -“Yeah.”

    Egads!

  • The British don’t say you’re welcome. We had a friend there that used to say a very long, exaggerated “you’re welcome” each time we thanked him and then laugh heartily.

    Who could forget, “…it’s the land, Katie Scarlett O’Hara.”

  • Sheryl

    Here’s another one that gets to me: “no worries.”. I cringe every time I hear it , which is at least once or twice each day.

  • Great observation. I also didn’t notice the demise of “You’re welcome.” But you are totally right. Every time I watch MSNBC or CNN and an anchor thanks a guest for their appearance, across the board they say “Thank you for having me.” Who knew?

  • My teenager and I have been talking about word choices. She asked me the other day if I used the word ‘savvy’. I said, yes. She said she wondered because she used it at school and one of her friend’s said that was an ‘old person word.’ Had I used ‘epic’ instead I would have been ‘cool’ or is it still ‘the bomb’?

  • Here in NZ, “no worries” is common. As is “sweet as”, which can be a bit eye watering.

  • You’re so right. People have stopped saying it. Makes the occasional “You’re welcome” all the more special, doesn’t it?

  • You’re right…I noticed that, too (on the radio and in life in general, too). Also, I noticed people tend to say things like: “Yup” “Sure” “Of course” and, as you said, “No problem”….also, “You got it” “You bet{cha}!” and “Don’t mention it.” I’m thinking the list goes on {thank you very much!} but I’ll stop there.

  • No, Thank YOU!

  • You know, I’m going to beg to differ just a little bit. I think “you’re welcome” is really an opener, or at least should have been. Like someone is walking up to your house and you say “you are welcome” to let them inside. I don’t know the origin of it–and I could Google it, but I’m too lazy. But doesn’t it seem as if it’s a blend of well and come. So you can come in if you are well? Or come in to get well?

  • I live in fear that “my bad” will completely replace, “I’m sorry.” It makes me want to hurl a little in the back of my throat everytime I hear it.

  • Guilty as charged on the “no problem!” habit – but I’m trying to change my ways. Honest.

  • I think about this, too. The “no problem” and “thank you for having me” is tiresome. And every time I hear “thank you for having me,” I think of something else.

    Then again, sometimes my son says “you’re welcome” when no one has thanked him for anything. That’s just as annoying.

  • My personal peeve is “My pleasure” especially when used by my dentist after a painful half-hour. Otherwise, hmm!

  • zkwitney

    Phrases that have disappeared, or that only geezers remember:
    “He’s in the catbird seat.”
    “I’m not feeling up to snuff.”

    And what IS the catbird seat? What is the snuff stuff that one is not up to?

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