Thanks for Everything....and for Nothing
It just might be most versatile and oft-used five letter word in the language. Thank. It can be good, it can be bad, it can be gracious and it can be harsh, and as part of longer words and phrases it can be all those things and more.
This thought came into my mind the other day, not because Thanksgiving is approaching, but instead when I held the door open on a cold evening for a young lady at the grocery store. She passed by and said nothing, and I quietly said under my breath, “Well, thank YOU very much”. The tone was extremely negative, and then I thought to myself, “don’t be a jerk, you don’t hold the door open for praise, you do it because it’s a common courtesy”. And normally I treat it that way, but this time, her attitude as she mutely moved by bugged me.
We can, and do, change the very meaning of thank, thanks, thank you and other derivations merely by tone of voice or the word or words surrounding it. “Gee, thanks” is almost always negative, but “Thanks a lot” is kind of split, depending on tone. “Thanks a bunch” would skew more to the negative.
Sometimes it’s pretty cut and dried. “Thanks for everything” is almost a hundred percent gracious, and “Thanks for nothing” lives up to its literal meaning. At this point, I feel compelled to note that it would seem that I am channeling my inner George Carlin a bit. He would no doubt have taken this idea to a much higher level, but I will plow on anyway.
It seems when you are giving thanks or giving out thanks that you are almost always sincere. Giving thanks is often in a church setting, and “give my thanks” involves a third party, and who wants to get them in any trouble.
You would hardly be feeling this sentiment when you dole out a “no thanks to you”, and the more you dollop on to this, the more heated the exchange might become. “No thanks to you and your greedy company”, or how about getting real down and dirty with “No thanks to you and that bunch of snobs you run around with”. You can follow up and double down with “Thankfully, I’ve washed my hands of the whole bunch”. The recipient will not be thankful to be treated that way.
The word “thankfully” itself is more of a bemoaning than a real feeling if gratitude. It is almost always followed by something bad, most commonly in “Thankfully, that’s over”, but really in trying to put anything bad in the rear-view mirror.
Even though it seems like you are actually apologizing for not meeting up to a standard, “I can’t than you enough” is always a nice thing to say, and I don’t think I have ever heard the phrase “I CAN thank you enough” used”. Maybe I could try that as a backhand slap and see if the person even gets the intent.
It doesn’t get used very much anymore, but “thanks a million” was almost unanimously sweet. Maybe when that was more prevalent, you could trot out “thanks a thousand” and see if it was demeaning. “Thank you ten times over” used to be something that you would hear a lot of, but maybe people’s lack of affinity with numbers these days has gone and killed that.
“Why, thank you”, isn’t negative on the face of it, but there seems to be a somewhat sinister undercurrent in it. It seems to be something that is said in not so good mystery shows, when the person who delivers the line is up to something, or knows more than you do about what they are thanking you for.
Even bringing in a higher power does not always lead to a clear meaning of our versatile word. “Thank God”, can be a sigh of relief in one tone of voice, and it can be an exasperated refrain in another, and just throw “well” in front of it, and perhaps “it’s about time” behind it, and you are probably using the man upstairs in a way he wouldn’t like. The phrase(s) also have a close cousin in “Thank Heavens”.
It is now Thanksgiving time, and that holiday moniker, expanded out from “thank”, might be the nicest use of the word imaginable, because Thanksgiving is the nicest, and least complicated, holiday. There is really nothing to complain about except for the possibility of overeating. There are no presents to stress over, and top of that, it is always on Thursday, which guarantees a nice holiday weekend.
It’s not the fourth of July, which has the good and the bad of fireworks (not much fun if you have dogs), and can always fall on Wednesday, which generally isn’t ideal.
It’s not really a religious holiday, so there are no complications that can evolve from that, be it snickering at Easter at those who only show up at church that day in fancy clothes (does that happen anymore??….I mean the clothes part), or what kind of card to send.
On Thanksgiving, you just get together as a family or group of friends, eat food that you usually don’t eat the rest of the year, and more of it, and laze around. It is the only time it’s really acceptable to just doze off in front of company.
Therefore, as the easygoing holiday that it is, we now have seen it completely trampled over. Christmas lights, trees, sales, and commercials all now appear well before Thanksgiving, and the day itself, and certainly the weekend, are brutally undercut by Black Friday. Maybe on-line shopping will help quell the phenomenon of lemmings lining up outside stores in the cold at 4 a.m. after our wonderful day.
So even the “thank” in Thanksgiving has been complicated and compromised, typical of the word itself. My wife and I are getting away for Thanksgiving by ourselves to a quiet place. We definitely will not be even thinking about Black Friday sales, and we usually don’t put up our Christmas things until at least a week into December.
I am uncompromisingly thankful for that.