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)