by Ginger Philbrick
I grew up in New York City, although my mother was born and reared in Richmond. Learning and practicing good manners were important when I visited my Virginia grandmother…always to respond with “you’re welcome” when she said “thank you.”
Today, some 50 years after her passing, the phrase “you’re welcome” seems to have disappeared. The responses to “thank you” are all over the lot. Some examples include: My pleasure; No, thank you; Sure, whatever; and even OK.
What happened to “you’re welcome?”
Douglas Adler, White Stone
Thank you for a very interesting question which has led to a learning experience for me. It is believed that the first mention of the phrase “you’re welcome” in writing in the public domain was in the Oxford English Dictionary of 1907. I cannot find where it was entered into our American dictionaries or books on manners before the 1960s. I strongly suspect that is because it was, as is the case in your upbringing, as common a response to thank you as “God-bless-you” was to a sneeze. We did not need to be reminded until that era when morality became less popular, taking manners with it.
The Oxford English Dictionary of 1989 defines the phrase as “a polite formula used in response to an expression of thanks.” Websters Unabridged Dictionary of 1992 advises it means “without obligation for the courtesy or favor received.” The latter definition gives a hint about the following and the answer to your question.
Although it seems to me like a huge stretch of logic, I understand that there are those today who believe that it is arrogant to say “you’re welcome,” that you are taking undue credit for an action and announcing self-importance. For instance, if you are thanked for passing okra to someone at the dining table, you should realize that it didn’t take much effort at all to help and therefore you should not receive what some see as praise for doing so.
Because of this we are hearing those we thank replace “you’re welcome” with a host of expressions that minimize the importance of their involvement in the action for which they are being thanked. Phrases such as “no worries,” “no problem,” “of course,” “think nothing of it” and “not at all” should therefore not be taken as offensive but as the person’s honest eschewing of undue credit. We see such humility in other languages—notably “de nada” (of nothing) in Spanish and “de rien”(it was nothing) in French.
I get it, I think, but I much prefer “it was my pleasure,” “I was glad to do it” or “you’re welcome.” I find them more positive than the other choices.
In 2017, the Emily Post Institute wrote, “When someone says ‘Thank you’, the best response is ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘My pleasure.’ Don’t be bashful—accept the credit for your kindness. By accepting thanks graciously you can also encourage the ‘thank-you’ habit.”
I don’t know your age Mr. Adler (and it would be extremely rude for me to inquire), but you may be glad, as I am, that one site on Google cautions young people that many older people dislike the use of the more casual responses.
However, I’d like it to go on record that I will happily accept any response that signifies the other person understands my gratitude for what they have done.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at email@example.com.