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August 28, 2014, 5:05 am

Saying ‘Thanks’ is a vanishing custom

The ability to use big words is important to many people. Some love using big words; words that make them appear to be intelligent; words that may be unfamiliar to the average person. While I do not make a practice of using big words, I do make a point of using words in an appropriate manner. Perhaps you have been in audiences where the speaker uses words so big you have to check your dictionary once you get home. Your vocabulary may dictate how you are received.

For me, the big words, the flowery words, take a back seat to a word that was heard quite often in the past but which seems to have been eliminated from our vocabulary today; one of the most beautiful words in the English language. Do you recall the frequency with which you heard “Thanks” back in the day?

When I was growing up, behaviors were instilled in us at a very young age. As soon as we began forming words, “Thank you” became a part of our vocabularies. It may have been simply “ta-ta,” but at the outset you learned to express gratitude for things done for you or given to you.

I understand that youngsters are tested for intelligence by being asked questions such as “what do you say when your mother gives you a gift?” At two or three years of age, many of us knelt at our bedsides each night and “thanked the Lord for keeping us through the day.” Or, we “thanked the Lord for the food we ate.” There was a time when saying “Thank you” was a basic response to others when we received good things. Giving thanks or saying “Thank you” was a fundamental practice of importance in every aspect of life, back in the day.

There is nothing more disgusting than observing children or adults taking another’s kindness for granted. You can tell a great deal about people by whether or not they say, “Thank you.” I know you have experienced making a purchase and then the cashier takes your money, provides your receipt and moves on to the next customer without saying a word. Here you are spending your hard-earned money and you receive no acknowledgement for patronizing the establishment. May I suggest you do as I do; give the cashier a hard look and say, “Thank you.” The person should get the message, and if he or she does not, go elsewhere the next time.

Some of you have been invited back to a follow-up interview as a result of a thank-you e-mail or note to the interviewer. Some of you have managed to get a second date by simply saying, “Thank you for a nice evening.” Some of you have not been invited back to visit friends or relatives because you failed to say, “Thank you.” How many of you have held the door open for someone and the person simply walks by you? Have you ever given up your seat in a crowded room, on a bus or streetcar and a person rushes to sit down and will not even look at you? What about standing aside to let a female step on or off an elevator? What is the response when you let someone get in line ahead of you? Perhaps you have done something for a neighbor, such as sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling snow, pulling weeds or cutting the grass and they say nothing.

You must wonder whatever happened to the simple acknowledgement of “Thank you.” I recall when that was an automatic response to positive deeds.

A thank-you need not be verbal. It really bugs me when I show courtesy to other drivers by stopping when they are seeking to pull out of a side street or driveway and there is no response. There was a time when you would receive a thank-you by a wave of the hand or a honk of the horn. Today, it is as if it is your duty to defer to other drivers. There was a time when one received a holiday or birthday gift and a thank-you note would follow in a reasonable amount of time. You may have memories of your mother sitting at the dining room table making sure Christmas cards were sent to everyone who had sent her one and writing thank-you notes to those who had given her a gift. Do we see thank-you notes today? Not on the scale of the past.

While the decline in sending thank-you notes today is partly related to people not embracing the principle of expressing thanks, it is also a result of diminishing writing skills. What does one say; how does one say it; will the words be spelled correctly? Even though prepared thank-you notes can be readily obtained from card shops, some people have trouble just picking out an appropriate one.

You may recall what happened when you received a gift or experienced a good deed in the presence of your mother. When you did not immediately respond, she would give you one of those looks that only a mother could and ask, “What do you say?” Of course, you knew it was a reminder to say, “Thank you.” Even if you did not want the gift; even though it appeared to be cheap; even if you did not care for the giver, you said, “Thank you.” I know of situations where children arrived home with a gift from a neighbor and their mother’s first reaction was, “Did you say thank you?” If they acknowledged that you had failed to say it, they were immediately sent back to express their thanks. Saying “Thank you” in the past was directly related to the value our parents placed on it. They felt that saying it could not be repeated often enough. While “Thank you” was important to me as a child, it became more important in my adult life, as hearing it in response to my performing a good deed made me feel appreciated.

Saying “Thank you” is not reserved for external relationships; expressing thanks is important in family relationships. “Pass me the remote control”; “I left your dinner in the microwave”; “I picked up your clothes from the laundry”; “I picked up your favorite pie from the bakery”; these are things we hear interacting with our loved ones that demand the response of “Thank you” as it did years ago.

The importance of saying it is apparent to those who visit foreign countries. What is the first word one learns in a country’s native language? It is, “Thank you!” How often have you received a written request with the words “Let me thank you in advance”? While “Thank you” may not bring a positive response to your request, quite often it cracks the door open, making a future transaction easier to complete. An Internet posting under the name franciaonline expresses the importance of “Thank you” with these words: “…we lose a human moment, a human connection, those tiny little fragments of our humanity.”

Let us not forget that “Thank you” must be followed by, “You are quite welcome.” However, we seldom hear this response, as “Thank you” is disappearing from how we show respect and appreciation to our fellow man and woman. It would bode well for our future, would not involve a cost and require little or no effort to return to those days when “Thank you” was a response we all embraced and freely expressed back in the day.


Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.