Thoughts on genre, language, grammar, and other
rhetorical and linguistic norms
rhetorical and linguistic norms
Do we need Thanksgiving? Americans already say thank you all the time.
Have you noticed that Thanksgiving is the only major US holiday that is an action?
Thanksgiving----thanks giving----giving thanks
Take a look at Federal public holidays in the US, and you'll see no other actions
New Year’s Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
George Washington’s Birthday
Even though Labor Day refers to Labor, it doesn’t tell us to do labor on Labor Day.
Same for popular holidays that aren’t Federal days off work
Super Bowl Sunday
Of course, we do stuff on every holiday, but only Thanksgiving tells us exactly what to do in its very name. Give thanks.
So how do we give thanks in the US on Thanksgiving day? And what for?
You can buy a Thanksgiving card of course. Greeting card companies don’t miss a chance to sell a card for every holiday. But it’s not very common to send what Charles Schulz callsturkey cards. I’m with Snoopy in thinking I’ve never received one
Search “Thanksgiving” and you’ll find, alongside the recipes for turkey and candied yams, plenty of articles with suggestions for how to give thanks, especially how to give thanks to God. Magazine articles and blog posts offer ideas for hosts to encourage giving thanks when the family gathers around the Thanksgiving table.
From the number of articles offering advice, you’d think we have trouble giving thanks on Thanksgiving. We do, of course. The holiday’s name may tell us to give thanks, but the usual holiday’s practices tell us to gather with family and friends, eat huge quantities of food, and watch football.
Makes me thankful just thinking about it
We don't seem to have trouble giving thanks on other days of the year. In fact, in the US we say thank you all the time.
From the number of articles offering advice, you’d think we have trouble giving thanks on Thanksgiving. We do, of course. . . But we don't seem to have trouble giving thanks on other days of the year. In fact, in the US we say thank you all the time.
In English we have lots of ways of saying thank you. The websiteMy English Teacher offers 112 phrases for saying thank you, though most are just variations on thank you, I appreciate it, thanks so much.
In an article in the Atlantic, Deepak Singh shows how common it is in America to say thank you, in great contrast to his upbringing in India.
I have been living in the United States for more than a decade, and I now say thank you about 50 times a day. Most of the time, I do it without thinking. I say thank you to the bus driver who takes me from point A to point B along with 20 other people. He usually can’t even hear me. I say thank you to the cashier at the coffee shop. I say thank you to the stranger who holds the door open for me at a restaurant. I say thank you to my wife and my 5-year-old daughter several times a day for various things: turning the volume of the television down or up, flicking the light switch on or off, asking me if I want to eat something or do something with them.” --Deepak Singh
That certainly sounds familiar to me. On a recent day, I thanked the nice guy who held the door open for me, my partner for pouring me a cup of coffee, the student who picked up the pen I dropped, and the receptionist on the phone who made an appointment for me. I thank people all day long.
But our American style of thanking people all day long is not the same as giving thanks.
Singh contrast American’s habit of thanking everyone for everything with the Hindu practice of reserving thanks for huge favors. In the Hindi culture, Singh writes, gratitude is unspoken and, when it is spoken, is offered with sincerity and a desire “to return the favor.”
“Saying dhanyavaad, or ‘thank you’ in Hindi, would almost be sarcastic. It seems inadequate.”
My last three weeks spent in a shoulder sling have made me aware again of the difference between routine thank you’s and giving thanks. I’ve given thanks for my partner who has not only poured me a cup of coffee but made every meal, refilled my ice pack, driven me anywhere I needed to go, and offered sympathy whenever I looked pitiful. I suppose I should even give thanks for his help strapping me into the torture sling. I’ve given thanks for my friends and students who’ve not only picked up my dropped pen but brought me frozen casseroles, conducted class without me, stopped by my office on the way to class to offer to carry things for me, and regularly expressed concern and asked how I’m doing—even when they’re feeling pressed by their own papers due soon.
I haven’t needed Thanksgiving to remind me to give thanks this year.
But I also value the everyday thank you’s that Singh seems to dismiss as trivial and insincere. My thanks are genuine to the door holder, the appointment maker, the coffee pourer, the pen picker upper. And I feel appreciated when someone thanks me for the small things we do for each other throughout a day.
Sure, it’s nice to pay special attention to the people in our lives who make our lives richer. But maybe it’s hard to give thanks on Thanksgiving day to these people closest to us because we are thanking them simply for being. “I’m grateful that you’re in my life.” “I’m thankful to have such a supportive partner.” “Thank you for being a friend.”
With that last line triggering the music from the TV show Friends to play annoyingly in my head, let's counter the sappiness by adding in the ways thank you’s are not always so genuine.
Singh offers one example, ”Initially I was surprised when people thanked me for visiting their house when they were the ones who’d invited me, but then I learned that, ‘Thank you for coming to my home’ actually meant, ‘It’s time for you to get out of my house.’”
Sarcastic thank you’s are pretty common.
“Thanks for holding the door open,” I might have hollered at the able-bodied guy at the next doorway who dropped the door closed in my face
“Gee, thanks,” when told a colleague suggested your name for one more committee assignment
“Thanks for taking my side,” said to your silent partner after a heated exchange about politics with the family gathered around the Thanksgiving table
Sometimes the real action behind apparently giving thanks is more subtle. One favorite of mine at the moment is the humble brag, seen more than occasionally on Twitter or Facebook. Humble braggers find lots of ways to announce their achievements while pretending to be humble. Check out @humblebrag on Twitter for wonderful examples.
One way to humblebrag is to seem to be thanking someone:
“Thank you to all the students who wrote such nice things on their evaluations. You help keep me going.”
“Thanks to all the colleagues who wrote support letters for my big award. I wouldn’t have received it without you”
“Big shout out to Susie, our wonderful travel agent, who planned such an incredible two week trip through Italy”
Search #humblebrag and “thanks” on twitter and you can scroll down hundreds of tweets both thanking people for something great and acknowledging its other action with #humblebrag
But Thanksgiving arrives this week, and the holiday name itself demands we give genuine thanks. Whether a card to a friend or a turn saying thanks to family and friends around the table, it doesn’t hurt us to give thanks. It might make us happier. And it will definitely help us celebrate Thanksgiving as the name tells us to.
Still, I want to appreciate, too, the small thanks that I give and receive every day. Sure, they’re different from the big thanks given to family and friends for making my life better. But the daily thank you’s to family, friends, and acquaintances help create that intimacy we later give thanks for. Same with the thanks we give to strangers who act kindly—those thank you's acknowledge our community, our watching out for one another, and a willingness to hold the door open for anyone.
That’s worth giving thanks for.