(September 12, 2006) Hear the audio version

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. No, thank you.” Everywhere these days, on the airwaves or on the street, a virtual ping-pong match of thank yous concludes every conversation, while the simple, elegant, and correct reply, “You’re welcome,” has gone the way of the Betamax. “Enough already, thank you very much.” It’s time to rescue “You’re welcome” and return it to its humble but rightful place in polite discourse.

Talking heads are among the worst offenders. They’re usually experts on the topic under discussion, so it’s their job to speak eloquently and knowledgably. By parroting “Thank you,” what exactly are they thanking the interviewer for? I don’t know. Does false modesty prohibit them from replying “You’re welcome”? Then to be honest, they should say, “Aw shucks, thanks for asking my opinion.”

Or . . . has the “Thank you” echo become a mindless habit? Clearly, it has already spread beyond the broadcast media. I’ve caught myself repeating “Thank you,” even though I object to it. Every week I thank the people who thank me when I buy organic lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, crispy apples, and other goodies at the farmers market. I am thankful they grow this delicious produce that feeds and nourishes my family. Maybe I should smile and reply, “Thank you for coming to market,” or “See you next week.” More thoughtful, less mechanical.

Repeating “Thank you” also invites that silly, repetitive gratitude loop that’s in danger of ending with “No problem,” just to terminate the dialogue. [Gasp!] Oh, no, not that! “No problem” is the other increasingly common response to “Thank you,” especially among young people.

“You’re welcome” won’t come back unless you and I bring it back. And in the process, we will be setting a good example for our language-challenged media.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan. Thank you!