Our English language is full of superlatives. We love to enhance our descriptions with the suffix “est” so that they are elevated to the nth degree: the highest, the tallest, the fastest, the strongest, the smartest, the prettiest, the funniest, etc. As a result, we slight the poor, forlorn comparative degree in our descriptions, such as: faster, stronger, smarter, prettier, etc. We are going to wear out our superlatives from overuse, and neglect or consign to the rust belt or the dust bin our comparatives.
With Thanksgiving upon us, we are on the verge of another feast on superlatives as we describe the meal being placed before us. And, as we face this prospect, we run head-on into another fiasco associated with our English language: the word THANKS. Presumably, this word will be coming to mind, and to our lips, frequently in and around Thanksgiving time. Why not? After all, it is most fitting, especially at this time of the year, to use this gracious and kindly word. Indeed, that is so. We give thanks to the cook or cooks of a delicious turkey meal, and, in the case of those among us, poorly situated in life, we thank those who have seen to it that we have found a place at the table of plenty. All well and good.
But then comes the mauling of our beautiful language. Because, almost invariably, the response to our “thank you” will consist of return “thank YOU” from the one we just thanked, and thus will commence a veritable barrage and counter-barrage of “thank YOU”s, involving a counter thrust of “no, thank YOU”, which, of course, no one will allow to stand, shorn of a decent response, which will inevitably be “oh, but thank you.” In this exchange of rapid fire expressions of gratitude, there is a strong likelihood it will never come to an end, or, just as bad, will lead to acrimony over who slips in the last “thank you” said.
Just like the superlatives of our language, which bury the comparatives, consigning them to oblivion, so the “thank you s” of our language, which is one of the most verbose of contemporary tongues in the contemporary world, with multiple choices of various ways in which we say what we want to say, we are locked into verbal sparring, even combat, over getting the last word in on adequate gratitude.
But the English language is gifted with a way out of this impasse in the form of a simple two word formula that is specifically designed to terminate what otherwise threatens to become interminable: YOU’RE WELCOME. Whatever happened to this simple but highly pertinent companion of “thank you”? It seems to have melted into oblivion. When is the last time you heard a YOU’RE WELCOME in an exchange with a THANK YOU? For some reason, we have closeted YOU’RE WELCOME, in much the same way we have done with comparatives in our superlative-sated use of English.
The distinct advantage of YOU’RE WELCOME is that it graciously and quickly terminates this contest/combat over who has the last THANK YOU on record. Does it take its cue from our liturgical prayer at mass, called the preface, whose introductory exhortation, LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD, appropriately elicits the gracious response: IT IS RIGHT AND JUST? Indeed, is not the central prayer of our Catholic religion the EUCHARIST? And does not eucharist mean: THANKSGIVING?
So let us all practice YOU’RE WELCOME during this Thanksgiving season. Otherwise we may get indigestion and not enjoy our meal.