Thank You So Much

Expressions of Gratitude

Over the last few months, I have noticed a trend in popular speech. The phrase, “Thank you so much,” has overtaken “Thank you very much” as the preferred expression of gratitude in our vernacular. I don’t know when or how it happened. I don’t know when it slid in, but it is now the clear favorite phrase to use, whether sincere or insincere.

I am sure that when most people say, “Thank you so much,” they are being sincere in gratitude, but it is starting to raise alarms in my perception of the degree of gratitude expressed. We are all familiar with the line from Hamlet, “Methinks she doth protest too much.” The melancholy Dane suspects that Gertrude’s repeated and loud denials of complicity in the murder of King Hamlet indicate a hidden guilt for the incident. So it is common to accept strident denials as a means of deflecting suspicion about a person’s involvement in a deed, thought or action.

However, while people try to hide their guilt with denial, we also have a tendency to hide our complacency or even our ambiguity when we think we should be grateful but are not. If you have ever gotten a Christmas gift from a friend that was not what you wanted or needed, and sported an enthusiastic grin while putting on that knitted sweater, then you understand what I mean. Likewise, in the workplace, people use expressions of gratitude to acknowledge that someone has done what they are paid to do.

Social grease is important, and I am not complaining about that at all. At work, it is not a good idea to express anything other than good cheer when dealing with superiors, clients and coworkers. It makes for a more productive workplace and I have learned this the hard way. My complaint is with the increasing emphasis that is being placed on the the words, “so much.” I have always felt comfortable with a person using a simple, “Hey, thanks for that.” I get the message from it that I am appreciated.

In my previous position, I served the needs of branch bankers and employees exclusively and rarely had any direct contact with bank customers (except in the Carl Sewell, “Everyone’s your customer” sense). One banker in Colorado carried the concept of workplace enthusiasm a bit too far, and I grew to hate when she called in because she layered the saccharine in her voice so thick that I always felt like the sweetness was rolling out of my pores instead of perspiration when I was done helping her. “Hey, Mike, I am having just a fantastic day! It would be so great if you could just reverse this overdraft fee for me, and I will love you forever for it.” “Okay, Kim, I’ll do that for you. Here’s your reference number: ‘xxxxxxx.’ What else can I help you with?” “Oh, Sweetie, that’s all, but you just really made my day! Thank you so much!”

I like my co-workers friendly, but I would rather that the workplace allowed for a bit more honesty in emotions. I should be careful explain that I am not promoting the idea that people should express negativity in order to bring other people down or to upset others in the workplace. I would hate to see poisonous atmospheres at work or around town created by scores of people intent on making my day as bad as theirs have been. No, I just want to be able to say, when asked how my day is going, “Not so well, thanks for asking.” Being able to approach a workday like this would allow others to sympathize and offer support.

There is a fine line to draw in workplace relationships between offering too much information when things aren’t going well and then being simply honest about needing personal support, if not unsolicited advice. Too much information can poison a workplace as much as hiding personal difficulties, but I think that societal and corporate norms have gone too far in spreading the concept that if we convince others that all is fantastic, then things will be fantastic. I think that a great deal of anxiety is caused within us by suppression and projection of well-being when we don’t have it.

My suspicion is that the “so much” phenomenon is a function of workplace anxiety and the pressure exerted by the standards of the workplace to always be having a fantastic day. I would rather save exuberant gratitude for when it is called for, more so than when it is expected. Most of us work for another entity, be it a corporation, a university or a small business, because we have to in order to pay the bills for living. The lucky few who work in a position that satisfies their desires from an emotional as well as financial standpoint don’t suffer this sort of angst. The rest of us turn the “Dress for Success” projection of professionalism inwards, projecting happiness when we are not happy in hopes that by wearing a “happy suit,” we will become happy.

At Tangled Up In Blue Guy, I once wrote about the “How was your weekend?” “Great!” mode of greeting on Monday mornings, and the expectations that this creates. (I can’t link to it now, because the post inside the “lost database” that needs to be restored someday.) I see this overemphasis on gratitude as a piece of the same pie. When someone continually says, “Thank you so much,” for every little bit of assistance I provide, no matter how small the favor, I am leery of their level of sincerity when I get the same expression for a larger assist. Letting someone borrow my stapler should not be held to be as huge of a favor as taking an hour to help on a project that will boost their esteem with the manager.

“Thank you so much” has spread beyond the workplace and into the larger society in the United States, of course. I have started to get bombarded by it from people at stores when I make a purchase, from my ex-wife when I take on my parental responsibility and give a ride to one of my kids on a day when they are normally under her responsibility. I hear it on the radio, when a host says “Thank you so much for being on our show.”

I Googled the phrase the other day, hoping to find an article from a scholar somewhere who had examined the new colloquialism, and the search engine returned more than 2 million results. When I scrolled from page to page I could find nothing after hitting “Next page” through to twenty-five results. All of the responses from the web were actual thanks from one person to another. “Thank you so much for printing this article….” “Thank you so much for answering my question….” “Thank you so much for the birthday party you guys threw for me the other day….” I didn’t find anything to help explain “Thank you so much”‘s rise to prominence. It is really starting to bother me.

Those of you who have met me in person know that I am less verbose in conversation than I am in transcribing my thoughts through a blog post. When I want to express gratitude to my friends or people who have helped me, my sincere, “Hey, thanks!” means more than a garrulous, “Thank you so much.” When I say it, I mean it. I am irritated, and perhaps I am reading too much between possibly non-existent lines, when people say to me, “Thank you so much.” I would rather have someone merely say, “Thanks.”

Finally, I think that using, “Thank you so much,” can be patronizing to the recipient, as if the teller were communicating to the receiver, “I don’t think that you grasp that I am appreciative if I merely say, ‘thank you.’” Preteens hate when adults bend over to talk to them like they were little children. The intentions may be sincere, but the expression is of the wrong note. I feel the same way.

Thank you so much for reading this little rant.

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19 Responses to “Thank You So Much”

  1. November 3rd, 2009 at 12:13 am

    Alden says:

    Love it!

  2. November 3rd, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Greg Laden says:

    I love this stuff. Thank you so much for writing this wonderful post.

    Hey, do you think this term originated in spam?

  3. November 3rd, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Your comment may be just the most fantastic thing I have ever read. It makes me feel smarter, more handsome and extremely charming. Even if nothing else happens today, you have put me on Cloud Nine and I am ever so fucking grateful!

    Thank you so much for stopping by.

    Spam, that’s a possibility that I hadn’t considered before.

  4. November 3rd, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Jason Thibeault says:

    My pithy phrase is “thank you kindly”. I think I picked it up from Due South. Yeah, the one with the stereotypically polite Mountie who for some reason wears his dress uniform all the time. My sincere gratitude phrase is “much appreciated!”

    By the way, it’s soooooo good that you’ve written this post! I’m very much appreciative of your writing skills and perspicacity!

  5. November 3rd, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I actually like “Thank you kindly” because it is bad grammar, and it makes me think of this one girl from Mississippi. Since this is a family blog, I won’t go too much into detail on how I lusted after her in my heart.

    And I really appreciate you putting in your insightful comment, using big words to show how smart we all are!

  6. November 10th, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Mark says:

    Well I feel better to find that someone else has noticed this. It’s just weird. I have been feeling like the kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes, like I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo that a sincere “thank you” no longer suffices. I’m a bit hesitant to even bring it up though because I so picture someone saying “why can’t you just accept that they are being polite? why do you always have to read things into it?” But I’m going to bring it up in my facebook status and link to this post. Yay for being both kind and sincere!

  7. November 10th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Sometimes I just need to write about stuff to make sure I am not alone in my peeves.

  8. November 11th, 2009 at 8:38 am

    a daughter's mother says:

    I finally figured out where I’ve been hearing “Thank you so much” in a way that sets my teeth on edge: Kira Sedgewick’s character Brenda on “The Closer”. It seems to come out when she’s being the most manipulative. Otherwise, it’s not the wording used, but whatever I detect behind them. If I hear what I think is real sincerity, I’ll overlook the words used.

    Well, with the exception of the stand-alone “whatever”. ARRRGGGGHHHH!!!

  9. November 12th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Arturo says:

    I first noticed this phrase phenomenon with the arrival of “At-the-End-of-the-Day” (as in, “When all is Said and Done”). Now we have “Thank You So Much”. I think the NPR news hosts start them. Or at least they host and spread them.

  10. November 12th, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    It’s quite possible they are the drivers of our dialogue. I have also noted that from Kerri Miller, but I am not sure when it started.

  11. November 13th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    khan says:

    Now that you’ve mentioned it I’ll notice it everywhere. Thank you so much.

  12. November 24th, 2009 at 8:53 am

    William of Avon says:

    A good post, to be sure, but that’s not what “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” means.

    A protestation is an emphatic declaration. The Player Queen has made promises and vows that are far too flowery and insistent to be able to be taken seriously, and Gertrude is commenting on that. So it’s not overdenial that’s the issue, it’s the appearance of oversincerity.

    Which actually fits the subject of this post better.

  13. November 24th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    AnonCoward23 says:

    “Thank you /so/ much”, at least in reading, sounds actually quite sarcastic…

  14. November 26th, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Thanks for your assistance in clearing that up, William. I never studied Hamlet well enough, and it has been years since I have seen it done. And you are right, it does fit better. In reading, it really does look sarcastic.

  15. January 13th, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Tracy Musante says:

    I’m so relieved that the now ubiquitous, “Thank you so much” is being noticed and commented on. I think it’s horrible and always seems to be teeming with insincerity whenever I hear it, which is all the time. Television talk show hosts and news casters seem particularly prone to using it. Oprah and Ellen say it constantly. I observed a woman getting off a bus recently and she turned to the driver and said it. On the first installment of American Idol last night, virtually every single contestant that was sent on to Hollywood said it. Where did this come from? It’s a vernacular mystery and travesty and it needs to stop. What happened to a good ol’ heartfelt, simple and gracious “Thank you?”

  16. January 13th, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Maybe someone could start a facebook group “Thank You Is Enough.”

  17. November 29th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Kim says:

    Thank you so much for posting about this! I noticed this phrase popularized last year as well and just now started googling it to see if I missed some trend. An enlightening post!

  18. December 8th, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Secret Shelly says:

    The equivalent in England seems to be ‘Thanks ever so’ which is just as infuriating and a sign of the ever increasing laziness that is spreading through the english language.
    Or as the shop assistance said to me the other day ‘ta muchly’, real colloquialism from the local area that I live in was again is a shining example of the idleness of the tongue.

  19. January 4th, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Ceeret says:

    This phrase started to bother me recently. I, like you, headed for Google and was very happy to come across your article. I had the illustrious “it’s not just me!” moment! Thank you! I agree with everything you say.

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