Gratitude Check: Vintage Thank You Phrases to Spice Up Your Sentiments

By Eric MuellerLast Updated Mar 30, 2021 2:57:29 PM ET
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From projecting professionalism to managing stress levels, gratitude is an increasingly important part of interacting with society. But saying "thank you" over and over can feel a bit redundant. What are some other ways to express gratitude — and how exactly does gratitude help improve our lives? As it turns out, saying "thanks" can do a lot more than warrant a "you’re welcome," and looking to history shows us some creative ways to do so.

Old English and the Birth of Thank You Phrases

As early as the 1100s, people who spoke what would eventually become what we know today as English started expressing "thanks." "Thanken" and "thankien," the Middle English terms for "thank," come from the Old English term "þanc," a borrowing from the Germanic "þankaz." You can write "thank you" in Old English as "Ic þancie þē" if you like, but for its pronunciation we recommend consulting your local linguist.

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In case that wasn’t enough of a mouthful for you, "thank" is also influenced by the Proto-Indo-European word, "tong." Most of these words refer to some type of brain activity, a.k.a. thinking. "Thanking" has a similar relationship to "thinking" as "sing" has with "song." Basically, original conjugations of "thank" meant something along the lines of, "I will be thinking of you."

"Gratitude" came a bit later in the 15th century from the Latin word "gratus." It’s interesting that the act of thanking someone kind of led to gratitude, which is more of an idea or state of mind. Gratitude as a concept and its importance continue to evolve, even today.

The first known time "I thank you" was written, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in the 1400s in a poem called "Why I Can’t Be a Nun."

The Psychology of Gratitude

It turns out that having gratitude and showing it is actually really, really good for you. According to studies at UC Berkeley, feeling gratitude boosts happiness and is a source of nourishment for the mind and body, inside and out. Folks that showed more gratitude were found to ruminate less, which is often a pathway to a more depressed mindset. Since gratitude is a stress reducer, gratitude can help keep the human heart beating while simultaneously reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

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Over in the social realm, Psychology Today also reports that use of words related to gratitude makes it less likely to use negative words and develop feelings of resentment. So, theoretically, if you’re expressing gratitude to someone you may or may not care for, you may be less likely to harbor negative feelings towards a person or at least express those negative feelings in that same conversation.

Over at Google Trends, "gratitude" is a term that goes way up every November and December, but overall searches for the term have steadily increased since 2004. The site also shows searches for "thank you" coasting along steadily for 16 years — until March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit new levels of urgency. "Gratitude" searches went up at the end of March/beginning of April in 2020 and dropped down in the summer before picking back up around Thanksgiving.

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The act of giving thanks outside of Thanksgiving is becoming more and more of a thing. Instead of creating new ways to convey gratitude, there are several vintage — some might say timeless — thank you phrases to express the sentiment, in case "thank you" feels redundant.

Vintage European Thank You Phrases to Freshen Your Gratitude

Much Obliged: This phrase has British origins and dates back to 1548, but in the states, it can evoke a bit of Southern charm. "Obliged" does stem from the word "obligate," but despite the weight of its root word, "much obliged" is one of those thank you phrases that still feels nice and fresh.

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Ta: Not to be confused with TTFN (ta-ta for now), "ta" dates back to 1772 and has British origins. "Ta" stems from sounds heard from infants and is considered a natural sound of gratitude. T.S. Eliot used "ta" in his well-celebrated work, "The Waste Land." Some think that the word also has Dutch origins. Since there isn’t anyone around from the 1700s to confirm this, we can simply enjoy the word and the gratitude that accompanies it.

Cheers: Europe’s thank you phrases are top notch. Many Americans conjure up the image of a pub in their minds upon hearing the word, but the sentiment is much broader than simply sharing a toast. While the word dates back to the 1700s, "cheers" was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a thank you phrase in 1976.

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At a Loss for Words? Sign it!

Saying "thank you" in American Sign Language is a terrific option to express your gratitude. It’s okay if someone doesn’t know that you’re thanking them right away, because not everyone is familiar with sign language. However using common signs in everyday life is a great way to help normalize the language and be more accommodating to folks at every level of hearing. You can also write thank you notes.

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No matter how you express gratitude, just be careful not to be a pickthank. That’s someone who curries favor by flattering someone else. There are better ways to be grateful and a lot of different ways to show it.

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