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The Origins of Giving Thanks

The Origins of Giving Thanks

As the weather begins to cool and the leaves change color and start to fall from the trees, it means Thanksgiving once more.  Many of us take this time as a reminder to examine all of the blessings we have to be thankful for; whether they are big or small, we all have things we should feel grateful about, and what better way to express our gratitude than to give “thanks”.  It is a word you probably use so often that you may not even think about it, but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted, as it is an integral element of our dealings with others and keeps society running in a smoother, more thoughtful manner.  So how did the common, everyday practice of saying “thank you” begin in the first place?

The Origins of Giving Thanks

The Origins of Giving ThanksWhen you examine the history of “thank you”, you will find that it is rooted in the word “think”.  In Old English dating from c.450-c.1100, “thank” was a noun that, in those days, meant “a thought”.  The Oxford English Dictionary states that the phrase advanced to “favourable thought or feeling, good will”, and by the middle ages carried the meaning of “kindly thought or feeling entertained towards any one for favour or services received”, not so different from the way we use “thank you” in the modern world.

How to say thank you

How to say thank you

With so many variations on “thank you” to choose from in today’s English language, you can find one that corresponds with each unique situation in life, and you can even tailor your choice to the degree of formality you want to convey.  In British English, for example, the expression “cheers” went from the pub to a casual way to say thanks that doesn’t involve any alcohol.  There is certainly a difference between feeling gratitude towards someone or feeling indebted to them.  When you are grateful, you wish to thank someone because they have helped you or acted in a kind way.  On the other hand, when you are indebted to someone, you feel like you need to return the favor in some way.  Phrases such as “much obliged” or “I owe you a debt of gratitude” will get the message across.  

Gratefulness

Gratefulness

Although expressions such as “I am very grateful” can let someone know you are thankful, the clear favorite in contemporary English is the straightforward but effective “thank you”, which dates all the way back to the fourteenth century when “I thank you” was a more complete version of the sentiment.  Our vocabulary often progresses and mutates, with words and phrases becoming shorter or more condensed as time passes.  Regardless of how you let your feelings of thanks be known, communicating your gratitude is a beneficial way to positively feed your relationships with others, and make sure that our society is one we want to be a part of.  

While Thanksgiving is perhaps a reminder of to be thankful on a bigger scale, keep in mind how fundamental a simple expression of gratitude is to us each and every day.