Linguistic Peeves: “A Big Thank You”

A female African Bush Elephant raises her trun...

I like well modulated grammar. I appreciate the clarity and accuracy that comes from applying the rules. I also enjoy seeing those rules creatively and consciously broken. Language lives; usage comes and goes and I embrace innovation. But (and, yes, these days it is fine to start a sentence with “but”), there are some things up with which I will not put:

A BIG THANK YOU

A big thank you” what? It hangs there like “a wrinkly elephant”.

Okay so, “A big thank you to all our supporters …” from whom? What are people trying to do with this phrase? It is so passive that the wonderful verb of thanking someone has become a wrinkly elephant of a noun that nobody will claim to own.

Fine, then, “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” Better, but that’s still a bit like saying, “we’d like to say a wrinkly elephant to all our supporters.” And why the conditional? Is there a problem?

“We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters, but it sounds silly.” I agree with that.

Maybe if the big thank you is what you want to say then it should be in quotation marks? “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” That doesn’t make sense either, it just adds a dollop of sarcasm.

I’m reminded of the parson in church, “Lord, we pray for all the people in the world and we especially pray for the widows and orphans.” That’s not praying, that’s just telling God that you are praying – WHAT do you pray for the orphans?

Maybe expressing the wish to issue “a big thank you” is a way of avoiding actually thanking anyone in the same way that the parson who prays for widows and orphans never actually prays for them.

Well, I just want to say “a big wrinkly elephant” to all who read this blog.

Thank you for reading it, thank you for commenting and interacting with me. I’m grateful to you all and I just wanted to express that somehow.

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12 Responses

  1. I hate these too (both the empty thank you and the open-ended prayer). Last week the intercessions included the content-less prayer ‘Lord, we pray for the elections in France and Greece.’ We didn’t ask for anything in particular regarding either election, so I can only assume that God was obliged to fill in the blanks as best He could.

  2. Maybe “big thank you” just needs some balance. For instance, I’d like to extend a big thank you to those who participated in the fundraiser for cancer.

    • Mmmm … I think that is an improvement … but it still grates on me somehow. I suppose I can’t be so fussy when this is turn of phrase we use all the time. Certainly it is better to “extend a thank you” than to “say a thank you” (in my mind anyway).

      The outstanding issue for me is the tentative tone of the language. If I say to you, “I’d like to tell you that you are doing a great job,” that choice of words expresses my wish without actually telling you. I’d prefer to go for the directness of, “You are doing a great job.”

      Ho hum, semantics eh?

      • I prefer it when people say ‘thanks for doing that’ (as opposed to ‘I’d like to say thanks for doing that’). The unspoken ‘but ….’ hangs in the air like the proverbial shoe.

        • That is definitely a problem.

          If you see any other unspoken proverbial shoes hanging in the air please let me know 😉

      • I confess I was attempting to be cheeky, balancing out one problem with another. It bugs me when people say they are raising money for cancer (pick a disease) when they mean raising money for research or to develop a cure. We already have the disease.

        • Ah, subtle and brilliant!

          Raising money for cancer? Ridiculous! no wonder they have not found a cure yet, they are to busy sponsoring the disease itself. Good point 🙂

  3. Haha! In the spirit of “eats shoots and leaves”

    • Yes, well, I don’t want to come across as a peevish grammatical curmudgeon, but … sometimes that cap fits me very well, I suppose.

      I’ve never read ESaL but I do tend to read the world around me with a copy editor’s eye.

      • Indeed. It’s rare to find other, borderline anal, grammar cops like myself. It’s a whole ‘nother thing and just…gooder somehow.

        • Indeedy! The only problem is, if you put yourself out there as a grammarian, sooner or later someone catches you doing a bad – ‘cos nobodies’ perfect! Then, it’s humiliating.

          As we said before, I think, I’ll watch your back if you’ll watch mine 😉

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