you're welcome

I did two potentially (probably orig. AmE as adjective) fun things recently: I was interviewed for a famous (in one country) radio (BrE) programme/(AmE) show and I (BrE) went to the pictures and saw The Imitation Game. Potentially fun, and mostly fun, but not without worry and embarrassment.

Let's start with the (orig. AmE) radio. I've done a few such things, and in the past I have prepared. I asked producers 'is there anything you can predict I'll be asked?' and I made notes of things I thought would come up. Then the interviewer never wants to talk about what the producer said they would want to talk about, and I think "Why did I bother to prepare?"

This time, it was all very mysterious. The producer contacted me, and I only knew which broadcaster he worked for. He didn't tell me which show/programme it was for, nor who the interviewer was, just that it was going to be about the flow of words between US and UK. The mystery may have had something to do with the fact that the segment was being prepared as a surprise for another radio (BrE) presenter. But I just went with the mystery. I asked no questions other than where and when to show up and I did no preparation because it's so often wasted.

What I should have done, what I should always do, was to make a list of common topics on the blog (the Words of the Year, the things that have got the most comments, etc.) so that it would be available to inspire me. This is what I did not do. I just showed up at the BBC Sussex studios, put on my headphones, and talked (more AmE) with/(AmE & BrE) to someone in another city.

And the first thing the interviewer said was "Quick! List Americanisms that have become common in British English!"  Dear Reader, I could have said movies, I could have said train station, I could have said Can I get a.... I could have said many, many, many things. But I choked. I said various things that have been in BrE so long that no one alive reali{s/z}es they're American, like belittle. I said awesome repeatedly. And then I said you're welcome, when used as a response to thank you. The interviewer was taken with that one.

Fast-forward a few days and I'm watching The Imitation Game, being slightly bothered by words and phrases coming out of characters' mouths that I don't think would have come out of wartime British mouths. But then Alan Turing/Benedict Cumberbatch says You're welcome in response to thank you, and I think: I lied on the radio.

Then I looked for my (more BrE in this use) bag, to get out a pen to write myself a note to look it up later. Then I couldn't find my bag under the seat. Then I spent the rest of the (more BrE than AmE) film wondering if I'd left my bag in the café (AmE) restroom/(BrE) toilet. Which is to say, I have no idea who won the war because my mind was elsewhere for the rest of the (orig. AmE) running time.

Is you're welcome an Americanism? 

One thing I can say for sure is that it's a recent-ism. (I'm talking only here about the response-to-thanks usage, which is different from its use in other contexts: welcomings, offers and invitations, e.g. you're welcome to join us.) The OED's first example of it as a response to thank you comes from 1907, then not another till 1960. All of these are British, but the OED can't always be trusted on this matter because it is based in the UK and historically got most of its materials from the UK. This is mostly a spoken phrase, so it could have had a nice life somewhere else before anyone at the OED noticed it.

Looking at the Corpus of Historical American English, the first you're welcome as response to thank you is from a 1909 story by Myrtle Reed:
"...Come, let's be friends. " He offered his hand. She put hers into it for a moment, then quickly took it away. He noted that it was very cold. " I must be going, " she said, keeping her self-control with difficulty, " Aunt Francesca will miss me. " " Thank you for coming -- and for bringing the violin. " " You 're welcome . Good-bye. " " Good-bye, Silver Girl. I hope you'll be happy. "
We're stuck with fictional uses because people weren't going around recording actual conversation quite yet, but certainly the 1907 British and 1909 American fictional uses must be reflecting something that was already going on in the spoken language. What's weird is that there's no particular evidence here of one place being first. At that point in our history, after independence but before wars and mass media brought us together, you'd think that linguistic innovations would be locatable in one place or the other. So here's a hypothesis: maybe the Irish started it and we were all following their cue.

Why did I think it was American, despite this lack of evidence?

(A) because I knew it was recent.
(B) because someone might've proposed it to me as an Americanism at some point, and I was recalling that.
(C) because you hear it more in AmE than BrE.

Reading around a bit on the topic now, I'm interested to see that several researchers (all cited in Schneider 2005) have found that English speakers are less likely to give a verbal response to thanks than speakers of other European languages and that British English speakers are the least likely of all to verbally respond to thanks with a 'minimizer' like no problem, my pleasure, or you're welcome. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that in Britain thank you/thanks is often used for purposes other than thanking, or maybe it doesn't. (It depends on how the research was done--and I don't have access to all of it at the moment.)

Karen Aijmer's 1996 book Conversational Routines in English makes this point about English speakers not always responding to thanks, but has a footnote "But note the high frequency of you're welcome in American English" (p. 78). Edmondson and House (1981:167) proposed that you're welcome should be label(l)ed as 'formal' in British English, "but definitely not in American, where this token is much more common".

I may be on to something with the Irish suggestion. After all, there were a lot (millions) of Irish people in the US by 1900. Looking online for equivalents of you're welcome in Irish, I find tá fáilte romhat, which seems to literally mean 'you're welcome'. One commenter thinks might be an anglicism. But maybe it's the other way (a)round: maybe you're welcome is an Irishism in English (to use the technical term, a calque, or loan translation). I don't have the means to check this, but maybe an Irish speaker among(st) you does?

Furthermore, in Schneider's study of present-day responses to thanks (using a discourse completion task), the Irish use a lot more welcome responses than the English do. Not as many as the Americans, but still:
(Schneider 2005: 115)
(And let's just pause to note that the most common English response was the Americanism okay.)

So, I'm not sure if you're welcome is an Americanism or if its use in the Great Britain today is the effect of Americani{s/z}ation. I'm not feeling too bad about my panic-saying of it to the interviewer because, well, it is a much more American thing to say than British thing to say. And maybe it'll be edited out anyway.  Please, let it be edited out anyway.

(I'll update this with news of the mysterious interview once it's been broadcast.)


References
  • Aijmer, Karen. 1996. Conversational routines in English: convention and creativity. London: Longman.
  • Edmondson, Willis, and Julianne House. 1981. Let's talk and talk about it: a pedagogic interactional grammar of English. Munich: Urban & Swarzenberg. 
  • Schneider, Klaus P. 2005. No problem, you're welcome, anytime: responding to thanks in Ireland, England and the USA.  In Anne Barron and Klaus P. Schneider (eds.), Pragmatics in Irish English. Berlin: DeGruyter Mouton.

65 comments

  1. FWIW, I grow up in the 80s speaking InE, which is (was?) a more conservative strain of BrE, I imagine. We were always taught to say "don't mention it", never "you're welcome". I first heard "you're welcome" as a response in the US.

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  2. No sweat. De nada. Yeah, as a Can/Am Eng child in the 60s-70, I was expected to say You're Welcome to all Thanks. Today, I vary it, but still feel dismissing whatever I did to elicit a Thank-you, to be only polite.

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  4. I think there're more than two functions for thank you.

    Yes, we Brits use it to mean 'I've finished my turn to speak, now it's your turn'. Yes you Americans use it to express your gratitude. But there's an in-between use — analogous to that Saying please in restaurants that we got so excited about a while back.

    When a waiter puts something in front of us, we say thank you. We're not especially grateful, but we do think the service should be acknowledged. And old-fashioned Sir or Madam form the waiter would be a pleasant surprise, but You're welcome would jar somewhat.

    There isn't really anything un-British in responding to expressions of real gratitude. It's just that so many Thank yous are a polite acknowledgement of a routine service — something completely expected which we pretend not to take for granted.

    Personally, I wouldn't expect an answer if I thanked someone for
    — opening a door
    — inviting me to go first
    — delivering a written note or a spoken message
    — pointing out something I hadn't notices
    — doing their job, or something I'd paid them to do
    And I wouldn't usually respond to a thanks if I'd just done one of these things myself.

    In the past, and perhaps still, when we learned in foreign languages such routine answers as Grazie—Prego, Danke shön—Bitte schön, Merci—Je vous en prie, we thought 'How unnecessary!' There was a belief — not necessarily true to fact — that you Americans did the same with an automatic, unthinking, formulaic You're welcome.

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  5. Sorry there are still some typos. I meant to write:

    An old-fashioned Sir or Madam from the waiter would be a pleasant surprise

    and

    — pointing out something I hadn't noticed

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  6. So, in BrE, if someone says "thank you" to mean gratitude, is there any sort or acknowledgement, or does the conversation just go on as if it never happened?

    As a Canadian, I am condition to ALWAYS respond to thank you. "You're welcome" is traditional, and what I'd use in more formal situations, but even with friends, I always reply to thanks with "no worries"/"no problem". Every so often at work, when I'm done helping a customer, they'll say "thank you", and I'll jump to "have a nice day", and then feel like I've been terribly rude by being on auto-pilot and not acknowledging their thanks! Maybe if I were a Brit, I wouldn't think twice about it. Interesting!

    Side note: I was once chastised by an acquaintance that saying "no problem" in response to "thank you" is impolite because it implies that their need was so unimportant that it literally has caused no inconvenience to you. I found that really odd. Anyone else brought up to think of it that way, or was she just an anomaly?

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  7. Also, I find the nuances of replies to "thank you" interesting. Even if they're just automatic formalities, they have slightly different tones. "Don't mention it/no problem" reassures the 'thanker'. "My pleasure" emphasizes the speaker's enjoyment of whatever he was thanked for. "You're welcome" is fairly neutral.

    David Crosbie, I think in many cases you're correct that North Americans have an automatic response. If I thanked a waiter, I wouldn't care at all if they didn't respond, but I also wouldn't find it unusual for them to say "you're welcome". It's pretty common here.

    (Sorry for the typos in the last post. Tired Canadian here.)

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  8. Great, now I'm going to be all self-conscious about responding to thank you's. Thank you!
    I migrated to the UK from the US about 15 years ago.
    I've only ever noticed this difference while listening to or watching interviews on UK radio and tv. US interviews *always* end with the interviewer thanking the interviewee, and the interviewee *always* responds with a "My pleasure" or equivalent. Interviewees in UK media *never* respond to the "thank you" at the end. To my US-conditioned ears that's a big missing beat in the rhythm of the thing. Less jarring now than it was when I first came over but I still notice.

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  9. I'd say (being Welsh and 50 in a few weeks time) I've used "you're welcome" certainly since I was old enough to be shopping on my own, possibly longer. But my first really clear memory is using it when I was out shopping and I did a favour for someone.

    Trying to think about my uses of it and my responses to "Thank you"s directed me, as you and others have noted there's a batch of BrE socially null uses of "Thank you" where I'm not likely to use it, or to say "Thank you" back.

    But if it's a genuine expression of thanks at some level, perhaps where it's not really necessary but appreciated, then I'll respond and often with "You're welcome" I guess to mark it out as something extra. It's a token of genuine social interaction rather than rote and formula, at least for me.

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  10. I remember back in 1984 I was attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles (well, Anaheim, actually). As there was a plan to bring the convention to the UK in 1987, a group British fans were manning a table to sell pre-supporting memberships to finance the bid. We always made sure to respond to "Thank you" with "You're welcome."

    Speaking one evening to an American friend about this, she asked what we'd normally say in the UK. When we said that we'd say nothing, she thought that sounded rude.

    However, when I was back in the UK and related this exchange to an English friend, his view was that saying "You're welcome" sounded insincere. So, it seems the British sound rude to the Americans and the Americans sound insincere to the British.

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  11. Anonymous, I think in relation to the tab/radio interviews ending abruptly, that is kind of glaring to someone on this side of the pond also but I think it serves a particular purpose to formally put an end to the interview and move on to the next topic in as efficient a manner as possible. In this way, the interviewer has control of the interview can say 'thank you' and immediately link smoothly to the next topic. If you are waiting for a response from the interviewee, it disrupts the flow as you don't know how many words the the interviewee might use in their 'you're welcome' and so can't link smoothly to the next piece and the interviewer won't have control over the smooth transition.

    Aside from that, in my experience in the UK I've never noticed a thanks to go without some sort of a response in a social situation. In other situations such as a waiter clearing your table it would be rare for the waiter to acknowledge the thanks as it's his job to do it so you shouldn't be made to feel like he has done you a favour, he was doing what he was paid to do. On the other hand thanking the waiter at the end of a nice meal should receive a response as he is now accounting for your whole dining experience and giving his response on behalf of the restaurant, not just himself.

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  12. I already posted this comment but it doesn't seem to have gotton through, Lynne please delete if this double posts....

    Irish grammar and syntax is very strange from an English speaking point of view. 'Ta failte romhat' doesn't literally translate as 'you're welcome' it literally translates as 'there is a welcome before you' which in turn can be taken to mean 'you're welcome'.

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  13. I think David Crosbie has (as so often) hit the nail on the head. In fact, as I read the post, I felt that that 1909 US example was not relevant because it was about "the wrong sort of thanks". Because she brought the violin, the "thank you" was a genuine thank you for taking some trouble, and did deserve a response (not that I would have said "you're welcome").

    To me, what seems the "Americanism" is the automatic use of "you're welcome" whenever someone says "thank you". I always say "thank you" when a waiter puts my plate down and it always jars when they say "you're welcome" (which they almost always do in foreign restaurants -- it is obviously part of English language tuition in most of the world). So much so that I then consciously stop myself saying "thank you" if they put down a second thing because I don't want them to have to say "you're welcome" again -- it feels very wrong!

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  14. More and more these days I'm hearing, and occasionally using, the Australianism "No worries" in response to "Thanks".

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  15. Sorry, should make clear that on "No worries" that it's in BrE I'm coming across this.

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  16. Anonymous

    To my US-conditioned ears that's a big missing beat in the rhythm of the thing.

    I think that's a very telling metaphor.

    I suspect that the instances where British and American instincts are directly opposite are in ritualised exchanges whereon speakers turn follows another like musical beats in a bar.

    One group of instances is typified by Lynne's description at the and of the video linked to above. Customers or sales assistants (or a bank employee in Lynnes's example) finish their turn and say 'Thank you'. The other party, having nothing to say, says 'Thank you' to signal that their turn is finished. And so on.

    Another group, I believe, is when British speakers say Thank you for some routine service meaning 'Yes that's satisfactory. I'm pleased and have nothing more to say.'. The transaction is finished.

    When we're genuinely grateful, we often restart the exchange:
    Thank you. I'm most grateful.
    Thank you. I really appreciate it.
    Thank you. You've been very helpful.
    Thank you. That's terrific!
    etc.

    To use your metaphor, to our UK-conditioned ears ears (or perhaps it's just England-conditioned), Thank you is often a closing beat. It resolves the rhythm. So You're welcome comes across as a clumsy little stumble which fails to recognise a rhythm which was nicely resolved.

    Your broadcast interviewer-interviewee example seems to work the same way. If the interviewer wants to offer the interviewee a final turn, he or she might say
    Thank you, Mr X. And goodnight.
    Thank you for your time. That was very interesting.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    .

    We have a long-running radio programme called Desert Island Discs where celebrities talk about themselves and their choice of record to take when marooned on a hypothetical desert island. Among the ritual turn-taking phrases is:
    Thank you very much
    [FULL NAME]
    For letting us share
    Your desert island discs.

    [I've formatted it like a poem because it does have that sort of feel.]
    More often than not, the celebrity replies with something like
    Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
    Thank you for inviting me.

    seldom if ever with with You're welcome

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  17. David Crosbie's bit about "Thank you" terminating the exchange reminds me of a radio talk I heard many years ago. An Englishman visiting the US for the first time was so surprised when a shop assistant responded to his "Thank you" with "You're welcome" that the only thing he could think off to say in response was "Thank you" again, to which, of course, the assistant replied "You're welcome" thus starting an infinite loop.

    Incidentally, another bit of etiquette that causes problems in Anglo-American relations is the phrase "Excuse me". I've noticed that Americans tend to use this if they have accidentally bumped into someone in the street or backed into them in a crowd. The equivalent British word would be "Sorry".

    The trouble is that in the UK we use "Excuse me" to alert someone that they are blocking ones path and you would like to get by. So, if you say that after hitting someone, it comes across that you knew they were there and were going to push them out of the way anyway.

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  18. I'm British, and I don't remember ever been taught as a child to say anything parricular in response to a thank you. When I lived in the US my American friends trained me to say 'You're welcome,' and it became more or less automatic after a while. I've never code-switched very well, so I carried on using it after I moved back home, but I do tend to vary it more, while feeling awkwardly obliged to say something even when it might not really be expected.

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  19. As a US American, I would say there are 2 different thank yous as well. In most social cases you should say You're Welcome to a thank you. But in situations like I ordered at the McDonald's, the service worker will say thank you, and I will say thank you, but there is no You're Welcome. It does not sound correct, and I feel that there really is no place for it. But if you are at a sit down restaurant and you ask your server for something extra and they bring it to you, you say thank you and they say you're welcome. It would feel strange otherwise.

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  20. My generation also would say No Problem, in the a fore mentioned scenario of the server bringing something extra. But a lot of the older generation really hate the no problem response. I personally use it far more often then you're welcome, which sounds a little too formal for most uses.

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  21. Canadian here. I think that the intense training in childhood to *always* respond with "you're welcome" when someone says "thank you" -- which I received and which I in turn am passing on to my kids -- means that even in situations where no gift or important help is being given, it's still the automatic response. I might also reply to "thank you" with "thanks", but I would very rarely not reply at all; it would feel noticeably rude. But when I watch British tv/films, I don't find I notice the absence of those replies--so maybe in context it doesn't strike me as rude.

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  22. Ever since I heard Italians routinely saying "Prego" in response to thanks many years ago, I've always supposed that whether or not one used an automatic reply of this kind was a language thing. Obviously, if Am/Can children are taught to say "You're welcome", it isn't the language but the culture. Like David Crosbie, I wouldn't expect a reply if I said "Thank you" to someone who had handed me some everyday object (as distinct from giving me a present).
    When I was learning Swedish, our tutor told us that his Swedish wife was often perceived as abrupt by British people because she didn't add "please" to everyday requests. There is a Swedish phrase equivalent to "If you please", but they don't use it as readily as English speakers say "please".

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  23. This post threw me -- I'd no idea that something as anodyne as "you're welcome" could be embraced or neglected according to national preference.

    I can say this, however. In New York City in the second decade of the 21st century the nearly invariable response to "thank you" by anyone under the age of 30 is "no problem". As trends go it's unmistakable.

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  24. I'm surprised that no-one has mentioned what I think may be the most common response to "thank you" in the United States: uh-huh. Used especially in lightweight situations like when one thanks someone for holding a door open.

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  25. As a middle-class, middle-aged Brit, I concur with David Crosbie and Paul Dormer with their analysis of when and whether a response to 'thank you' is required.

    I certainly agree that at the end of an interview on radio or TV, the less said the better, since it can disrupt the lead in to the next topic.

    I see 'my pleasure' as a slightly old-fashioned courtesy, perhaps a little over-the-top: 'you're welcome' as American (but could be a very ironic BrE response between friends if the thanks refer to something unwelcome or unpleasant): 'no problem' gets the mental response 'well of course there's no problem, it's your job to sell me that ticket or get me that item' since it seems almost always to be used officiously/officially, whether face-to-face or over the phone.

    'Not at all' sounds BrE to me, similarly the rather more sincere 'think nothing of it'.

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  26. Another middle-class, middle-aged (if not outright elderly!) Brit here. I remember on my first visit to the USA, some 18 years ago now, the first night in the restaurant the waiter kept saying "You're welcome" whenever we said "Thank you", and the friend I was travelling with and I were hard put to it to restrain our giggles, much to the bemusement of our hostess - obviously the politeness codes between waiter and eater are quite different between the two countries!

    I would *occasionally* say "You're welcome" if the situation called for some kind of response, but it's certainly not routine or automatic.

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  27. Another data-point for the slightly distracted "uh-huh" that Chris Brockett mentions. As a Brit moving to the US, this was very jarring to me for a while — it's not something I can ever remember hearing in the UK. My first impression was that it seemed offhand and a bit rude. A similar response would be a low-key "sure". But both of these are very practical; they very clearly end the exchange, with no expectation of another round of thanks.

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  28. As a British English speaker, I would never normally have responded to a "Thank you" with "You're welcome" -- until now. In Peppa Pig cartoons, Daddy Pig commonly responds with this, or variants such as "You're most welcome," and our two small children have learnt it from him. When our two-year-old -- much of whose speech still requires a parental ear-of-faith to decode -- replies to a "Thank you" with a beautifully, earnestly polite "You're welcome" it seems churlish not to join in with the ritual. And so he has learnt from Daddy Pig, and we from him.

    Mind you, given that Daddy Pig is British, too, I don;t know where he gets it from...

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  29. BrEng speaker in my sixties. I don't think one ever heard 'you're welcome' until quite recently. To me, it still sounds nearly as American as 'have a nice day'. I'm sure nobody here said that in the forties. It would be as jarringly out of period as seeing people hug one another when they said Good Bye in Downton Abbey. So I'd agree with Lynne.

    Are some of the comments on the thread though beginning to suggest its spread may have begun in Canada?

    Is Paul Dormer's statement "it seems the British sound rude to the Americans and the Americans sound insincere to the British" saying something that might be more universal? Some AmEng expressions seem to be designed to try to establish a transitory personal relationship in circumstances where this is inappropriate. It feels a bit as though a person is saying to you 'buy my product because you like me' or even 'because it will establish a relationship between us', rather than 'buy my product because it does what you want it to do'. I think we're more comfortable with a bit of space between each other.

    I haven't encountered "uh-huh". It sounds as though unless said with the right tone of voice, it would indeed be off-hand and rude.

    Incidentally, is the irritating "no probs" universal, or is it an anglicisation of the US expression?

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  30. I haven't read all of the comments above but note 2 other Canadians who were strongly conditioned, like me, to say "You're welcome". I worked in a museum in Winnipeg and we always noticed (with some shock) that American tourists would say "uh-huh" in response to a thank you. As for negative reactions to "no problem" (suggesting it implies that if it had been a problem the person wouldn't have done it), I hear this complaint a lot from people in their 70s and older. This reaction has always rather puzzled me too, since there are many other similar responses: "not at all, don't mention it, in French il n'y a pas de quoi..."

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  31. Growing up in the mid-/late Sixties (USA), I was taught that "You're welcome" was the preferred--indeed pretty much the only possible--response. But I've noticed lately that, in shopping situations, many people will answer "Thanks," or "Thank you." I guess the subtext is that the cashier is thanking the customer for shopping there, and the customer is thanking the cashier for ringing up their order.

    I've heard this happen in supermarkets, convenience stores, and retail stores, and I've used it myself.

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  32. It's just occurred to me that Thank you can be used to end somebody else's speaking turn.

    If you have to interrupt somebody and tell them to shut up, you can at least lay this veneer of politeness over it.

    Not that the interrupted speaker will say You're welcome.

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  33. Laura, about “no problem”: Quite a few American peevers are devoted to interpreting this in a way that makes it rude. I mentioned this (& discussed polite formulas with Lynne) in a 2007 column in the Boston Globe, but I guess I can't link here.

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  34. "The trouble is that in the UK we use "Excuse me" to alert someone that they are blocking ones path and you would like to get by. So, if you say that after hitting someone, it comes across that you knew they were there and were going to push them out of the way anyway."

    In the U.S. 'excuse me' is used the same way. But the 'get out of the way' excuse me has a different intonation than the 'sorry' excuse me.

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  35. The OED's first example of it as a response to thank you comes from 1907, then not another till 1960. All of these are British

    Well, the second one is a British writer describing what he heard in the US. He finds something about it unusual, although it's not clear whether it's the practice or the diction:

    The coloured lift attendant in South Carolina who had that attractive way of saying, almost singing, ‘You're welcome’ whenever we thanked her.

    The word whenever makes me inclined to think that the writer found the practice quaint — attractive but odd — and that the almost singing diction was an incidental added attraction.

    And the first is a bit odd, marked as such by being enclosed in (BrE) square brackets. The actual phrase is You're quite welcome, which suggests one of two things
    either
    • It's a slight elaboration on a ritual You're welcome
    or
    • It's not a ritual, but a phrase specially composed for the current purpose

    To be fair on the OED they haven't touched this entry since 1926. The eventual revision should give a fuller and more balanced picture.

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  36. Is there a tecchie Brit out there who can find the sketch by John Finnemore (Radio 4) in which his character is slowly driven mad (in the AmE sense I think!) by someone who says 'no problem' each time he provides information over the phone?
    This man is the funniest (clean) observational comic in the UK right now.

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  37. Dru, I've never (or, perhaps, very rarely) heard "no probs" used. In my experience, it's a written convention (one which I use only ironically when texting/chatting online with friends, but perhaps teens today are more earnest in their usage!). I'd consider it on par with "lol": it's silly, informal, and (possibly, to some) bothersome, but as long as it's written and not said, I'm fine with it!

    Then again, perhaps there's some area of the world where people really do respond with "no probs" in spoken conversation. I hope never to visit there!

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  38. AmE speaker here. "You're Welcome" is certainly the "standard" response to thank you here", although I picked up "no problem" at some point without realizing it. My impression is that it has replaced "don't mention it" which sounds a bit archaic to me. "Uh huh", which I do hear a lot but never use myself, is a non-answer, when not answering is not an option. What I really find rude is "you bet". I understand that it's a regional thing, but in my region (New Jersey) it sounds like "thanking me is the least you can do".

    I can't think of any situation where a "thank you" should go unanswered, unless it's already a response to another "thank you" or other expression of gratitude (or it's a recording or automated message).

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  39. I'm a British English speaker and I wasn't brought up to respond to a "Thank you" in any way. I did, however, pick the habit up from observing others in life and on TV. To me it just felt appropriate to respond in some way, and when I became interested in other languages with their "Grazie-prego" routines and so on, my feelings on the subject seemed to be confirmed. As for "No problem", I see it as a casual phrase that should really only be used amongst friends. Personally, I say it if someone has put themselves out for me. On the other hand, I really hate to hear it from a waiter when all he's done is delivered a plate of food to the table. It's his job, he's being paid for it, so why does he feel the need to tell me it is not a problem?

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  40. I'm finding the British comments that waiters don't need to respond to 'thanks' because 'it's their job' interesting, because it is at odds with the discussion we had about 'please' some time ago, where Americans were saying "it's their job, not a favo(u)r', so you don't need a 'please'". (If you want to comment on the 'please' thing, please join the fray here: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/saying-please-in-restaurants.html)

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  41. Lynne

    Yes, I've also noticed the mismatch between AmE It's their job, so don't say 'Please' and BrE It's your job, so don't say 'Don't mention it'.

    It's leading me to think that politeness is an incidental consideration. It's only when we hear something said or something unsaid in the other culture that we think That's over-polite/not polite enough.

    Each within our culture, i suggest that it's much more the routine that matters. In technical terms, the two culture nave slightly different schemata — abstract mental constructs of how we expect an episode of eating in a restaurant to go. Attached to each schema is script with lots of unpredictable phrases (names of dishes etc) framed by extremely predictable markers.

    If I'm right, we could see three phrases as signals or acknowledgements:

    X please a signal that X is the customer's order

    Thank you an acknowledgement that the water has brought what was expected

    You're welcome an acknowledgement of the customer's thanks

    The stereotypical Brit has two scripts with two terminal exchanges:

    • In the ordering final exchange,
    CUSTOMER signals his/her final choice with please
    WAITER signals understanding (for example by repeating back

    • in the serving final exchange
    WAITER silently or with comment places order in front of customer
    CUSTOMER signals that exchange is satisfactorily concluded with Thank you

    The stereotypical American's scripts are subtly different

    • in the ordering final exchange
    CUSTOMER gives what is so obviously an order that it needs no signal
    WAITER signal understanding

    • in the serving final exchange
    WAITER silently or with comment places order in front of customer
    CUSTOMER signals that the non-verbal exchange is satisfactorily concluded with Thank you
    WAITER concludes the verbal exchange with You're welcome

    Within each culture, as long as the exchanges follow the script, both customer and waiter are comfortable. They have no face to lose. Politeness lies not in giving consideration to face, but in sticking to the script.

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  42. Boris Zakharin

    I can't think of any situation where a "thank you" should go unanswered

    Try this one...

    A friend is facing something for you because he/she knows how and you don't. You're standing by, handing over his/her tools as requested:

    FRIEND: Screwdriver please.
    YOU: Here you are.
    FRIEND: Thank you.

    Would you really say You're welcome?

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  43. CORRECTION

    A friend is facing something for you

    That pesky spellchecker!

    I meant

    A friend is fixing something for you

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  44. David Crosbie asks:

    FRIEND: Screwdriver please.
    YOU: Here you are.
    FRIEND: Thank you.

    Would you really say You're welcome?

    If that's the only interchange between us -- we haven't been going through a whole toolbox's worth of screws, brads, nails, hammers, and tongs -- yes, I would say "you're welcome."

    But at least in my dia/idiolect, there's an undefinable point at which the repetition gets ridiculous. If friend and I are in a club in which we're building things together all the time - say, a model railroad club working on a big layout - the niceties can disappear. But if it's a one-off, then I'd say "you're welcome" even if it were a plumber I'd hired instead of a friend. It would probably come out in a half-swallowed way, more "welcome" than "you're welcome," but I'd still feel compelled to say something.

    Age 46, dialect mixed northern U.S.

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  45. Christian

    If that's the only interchange between us -- we haven't been going through a whole toolbox's worth of screws, brads, nails, hammers, and tongs -- yes, I would say "you're welcome."

    Yes, but I did say

    You're standing by, handing over his/her tools as requested:

    So you wouldn't keep saying You're welcome any more than i would. Nor, I suspect, would Boris.

    I don't think that it's fatigue that works against the repetition. Each request is a predictable step in a sequence. (The specific tool may not be predictable, but you know fine well there's going to be a request, then another request.) So, if you're like me, you don't acknowledge even the first Thank you because you know there'll be more to come.

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  46. I can see that the idea is stretching your credulity, David, but I'd say that first "your welcome" is a must, out of force of habit. The fact that iteration is predictable wouldn't enter into it: "thank you" takes "you're welcome," at least once.

    Period.

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  47. Now, whether my experience is at all typical of American English speakers is a separate question. At 46, I'm older than many. Moreover, my grandparents had a disproportionate influence on my childhood, including on my idiolect. Their English was rather formal, particularly my grandmother's -- she grew up in a bilingual German-English town where social patterns tended to follow Old Country norms.

    As a result, I'm among the few who invariably use both "you're welcome" with "thank you" and "please" in restaurants (I've long been irritated by the lack of "please" and am grateful to Lynne -- and you -- for such strong hypotheses as to the reasons it's so common). I think the latter is attributable to more than just German and Nordic formality. My grandparents were married at the peak of the Great Depression, in the middle of one of the hardest-hit states. So, rather like your experience growing up in England, restaurants were a rare experience for them, and they really felt (or at least wanted to be perceived as feeling) that they were making an imposition on the waitstaff. In their presence, I'd never have gotten away with placing a restaurant order without "please." (My dad -- their son -- never uses "please" in restaurants so I suspect my obsession was partly in rebellion to him, in the grandparents-and-grandchildren-alliance so typical of families.)

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  48. Christian

    I can see that the idea is stretching your credulity, David, but I'd say that first "your welcome" is a must, out of force of habit.

    I did say if you're like me. I have no difficulty in accepting that you're not like me. But we seem to agree that an early anticipation of future repeated Thank yous serves to turn off the automatic reaction.

    Have you read the Saying please in restaurants thread? Lynne sees it as illustrating two forms of politeness, and the American vs British split of opinion on that thread seems at first glance to support this.

    And yet on this thread, it seems to be the Americans who expect more formal politeness. And within your family the key seems to be sounding or not sounding like your parents.

    Lynne might argue that the three generations in your family disagree in their choice of attitude to politeness. I'm inclined to think that it's more a question of choosing between patterns of verbal interaction — 'scripts' as I call them in my post above (2 December 2014). You and your grandparents have, I believe, chosen the British 'script' for what I called the ordering final exchange. And you've chosen the American script for the serving final exchange.

    • You choose please ordering + Your'e welcome serving.
    • I (and many British speakers) choose please ordering + SILENCE serving.
    • Many Americans choose I'll have or Can I get? (?or SILENCE) ordering (You're welcome serving.

    At least one other combination is possible. For all I know, your dad might choose SILENCE ordering + SILENCE serving. Unlikely, but not unthinkable.

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  49. ~American aged 26~

    Permit me to attempt to clear up what I perceive as a smidgen of misunderstanding on the part of David Crosbie regarding Christian Johnson.

    Mere anticipation of repeated exchanges is not enough to derail the "thanks"-"welcome" script. Christian, (and myself mostly) would go through with the script at least once, even knowing that he would be handing his friend dozens of tools. Only after saying welcome 1-5 times would I discontinue the response.

    As to the use of "Thank You" I have three scripts.

    If I am on the receiving end of an exchange, I will say "Thank You" and expect a verbal "Welcome" "Don't mention it" "My pleasure" or similar. (a smile would also usually suffice)

    If both parties have gained by the exchange as in an interview/book promotion I expect mutual "Thank you"s.

    If the interaction is trivial and "Thank you" was not expected, then "Yes", "Sure", "Right", a nod, or even "Yup" or "Uh-huh" concludes the verbal exchange"

    In my mind not saying something in response to "Thank You" is akin to not responding in kind when someone waves to you.

    I see "Thank You" as being less about gratitude and more about acknowledgement.

    As to Please and You're Welcome in restaurants the seeming discrepancy may resolve if you note which party is called upon to be polite. The customer is the one who does or does not say please, and the server is the one who does or does not say you're welcome. I wonder if this harkens back to class differences. In America there is a sense that money affords the privilege of rudeness, whereas in the UK manners and politeness are part and parcel to the display of status.


    P.S. Facing something is a project a friend in the trades might help one with, but I doubt a screwdriver is the correct tool for that.

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  50. I have small grandchildren and with them, as with my own daughter at that sort of age, and other small children I have known over the years, a popular game at around a year to eighteen months old is for the child to hand you something, and say "Here you are!" to which you are expected to reply, "Thank you!". You then hand the item back to the child, saying "Here you are" and the child replies "Thank you" (and frequently screams with laughter).

    I assume a similar game is played with small children in the USA - do you add in "You're welcome" as part of the ritual exchange?

    Incidentally, I heard myself saying it to a workman the other day, who had thanked me with the word, "Cheers!" for something - can't now remember what. I have, though, lived in France where it is customary to say "de rien" in response to "merci", although not always - there are innuendos I haven't time or space to get into.

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  51. Albert

    Mere anticipation of repeated exchanges is not enough to derail the "thanks"-"welcome" script. Christian, (and myself mostly) would go through with the script at least once, even knowing that he would be handing his friend dozens of tools. Only after saying welcome 1-5 times would I discontinue the response.

    Well Christian didn't hint at as many as five times. I entirely understood his point that he would say You're welcome at least once. So, I infer, he would stop early but not as early as me.

    As to the use of "Thank You" I have three scripts.

    I don't know how I'd count the number of scripts I have. The sort of 'script' I have in mind is tied to a schema, which is a very specific model of a specific type of interaction. My whole point is that there is no general routine for using Thank you.

    In many social situations, British use would differ very little from what you describe. Even in my speech, the closer thanks is to an expression of personal gratitude, the more likely I am to make some sort of response — consciously chosen from a repertoire which includes You're welcome.

    In America there is a sense that money affords the privilege of rudeness

    That's not unknown in Britain.

    I remain happier with the idea that the comfort of customer and waiter stems from following the script. If a waiter has never (or hardly ever) heard please in a customer's order, then he or she will feel perfectly unruffled each time. It matters not whether the customer is rich and inconsiderate or sympathetically playing by the verbal rules.

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  52. I was always taught to say "you're welcome" and that not saying it was bad manners. Quite frequently it's just shortened to "welcome", which can be a bit confusing. Most often in informal situations these days I just say "no problem",

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  53. My Irish viewpoint:

    "You're welcome" is one of the usual responses to *sincere personal* thanks for a favour; the response to *formulaic/politeness* thanks is something else, or nothing. Formulaically, of those listed in the table, I might use "Okay", "Sure", "Yeah", or nothing. "No worries" has gained a lot of ground, though I don't use it much myself. Sincerely, I would probably use "you're welcome" or "[my/a] pleasure". "No problem" might work in either case, though that doesn't mean it's the most frequent.

    On Irish radio, if a newscaster is talking over the phone to someone and ends with "Dr Expert, thanks for talking to us", there is often a tiny pause to allow for a formulaic response from Dr Expert, but not always: on the one hand, the pause is often left unfilled; on the other, a "You're w--" or "My pl--" will occasionally be cut off after the producer has gambled wrongly on a quick cut. Normally if the show is running late, timewasting final politeness is obviated by the host's using a different closing, like "okay Dr Expert, we'll leave it there".

    In IRC the usual response to "thx" is "np" [="no problem", if that wasn't obvious].

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  54. "You're welcome" is the only possible wording for sarcastic or jocular responses to non-existent thanks, e.g.

    * to upbraid someone for failing to thank you

    * at the end of a blogpost, Facebook status, etc, which offers some juicy information you are sure your readers will be thanking you for

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  55. If anyone is still reading this: When I learned Spanish as a young American boy I was taught that "'De nada' is Spanish for 'You're welcome.'" For those from Britain who learned a foreign language - were you taught that De nada (or prego or bitte schön or de rien) was simply "That thing they say after thank you" with no English translation? (Mr. Crosbie briefly mentioned in this in his first comment, but I wonder if anyone else had thoughts.)

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  56. P.S. A late-nineties condemnation of "No problem":

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-04-21/features/9904210375_1_waiter-new-gate-employee

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  57. My first memories of learning English was AmE as my dad worked as a medical illustrator with American doctors. I must have been only 5 or 6. We lived in Paris at the time, travelled to Boston and my brother and I learned things like Hello, Good bye, thank you, etc. prior to our trip. I clearly remember that my dad told us that 'you're welcome' was what should be said in answer to thank you in AmE but not BrE (this was in the 70s).When, years and years later my husband and I moved to England I was careful not to use 'you're welcome' but rather 'no problem' or 'that's all right' until I realised lots of people were using it! I wonder if it's just a question of a word migrating from AmE to BrE or if it could have been a regionalism?! In France for example we mostly say 'de rien' (that's nothing) or the more formal 'je vous en prie' (please) but in the South West where my grand mother was from, people commonly use 'avec plaisir' (pleasure).

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  58. James - I learned French at school, but don't remember at that stage being taught to say anything as an automatic response to thanks. As I mentioned some way above, the Italian "Prego" was the first expression of the kind I came across, when visiting Italy as a teenager. I would probably have translated it as "Don't mention it."

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  59. Laura, please don't come and visit me if "No probs" offends your aural senses!!! (In fact, there may be people here in Australia who still remember there was an ad in which the response to "Thank you" was "No prob, Bob", and who use this as a phrase!)

    I am a "You're welcome" convert in verbal interactions after my 4 years in NJ, but "no prob" is an autosuggestion on my phone when I text, as I use it so often (in place of "Okay").

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  60. Wow, that whole idea that because they're only doing their job, a waiter shouldn't respond with a 'you're welcome' or a 'no problem' to a diner's thank you really strikes me (as an American) as horribly better-than-thou rude. Sure it's their job, but I think by allowing the 'no problem/you're welcome' response, we're upholding a facade that this isn't really a business transaction at all. It's a guest-host sort of thing where the waiter is assuring you that they really haven't been put out at all by your request.

    As for other possible responses, I've definitely heard 'no prob' before, but I'm not sure about 'no probs.' I don't have any negative connotation for 'no problem' but I'm not surprised that some people do. It seems like the sort of think purists might condemn.

    'You bet!' is another good response (at least for someone from Massachusetts). It would have the meaning of 'Thank you. You bet! Of course I'd do that thing for you' rather than 'Thank you. You bet you'd better thank me!' 'Sure thing' is also common for responding to thanks for small favors like holding a door or taking a photo for someone.

    'Uh-huh' (or it's partner, mhm) does have to be said with the right inflection in order to sound right, but that's pretty much true whenever you use the word.

    'Of course!' works in response to thanks for expected kindnesses like passing the salt when asked or a grocery store bagger bagging your groceries. It would be less appropriate for gift-giving.

    I know several people already mentioned 'sure' as a possible response, but I think I'd be more likely to say 'sure thing.' I'd probably use one of these in the tool box situation described earlier. Then maybe devolving to an 'mhm.'

    David Crosbie, Americans can also use 'thank you' as a thinly veiled way of telling someone to shut up. Like in BrE, it would be recognized as not truly genuine and so wouldn't receive a response.

    Responding to 'thank you' with another 'thank you' sounds really, really weird to me. I feel like there's been no acknowledgement of the thanks.

    Also, I find it interesting how the Brits here have draw a sharp distinction between sincere thanks and formulaic politeness. This difference does exist, but I think it may feel less distinct to Americans since we use the same response in both situations. If someone said my thanks to the waiter wasn't sincere, I'd be surprised. Kind of a 'Are you saying I'm not thankful for the waiter bringing me my meal?' response.

    Mrs Redboots, I'm not familiar with the 'Here you go. Thank you!' game, so maybe we don't have it here. If you gave a child something and they didn't respond, though, you'd be likely to hear their parent prompt them with 'What do you say?' I think you'd be much less likely to hear that for you're welcome.

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  61. Sure it's their job, but I think by allowing the 'no problem/you're welcome' response, we're upholding a facade that this isn't really a business transaction at all. It's a guest-host sort of thing where the waiter is assuring you that they really haven't been put out at all by your request.
    Except that we then come full circle, because that's what we do when we say "Please" when we're ordering, which the majority of Americans appear not to do! Just different politenesses, which can lead to cultural misunderstandings.


    Mrs Redboots, I'm not familiar with the 'Here you go. Thank you!' game, so maybe we don't have it here. If you gave a child something and they didn't respond, though, you'd be likely to hear their parent prompt them with 'What do you say?'

    Oh, I bet you do - all small children, learning object permanence, will pass you whatever they are holding, and expect you to pass it back.... and suddenly the day comes when it's a cup and you realise they are expecting you to pretend to drink from it, and you realise that they have just taken a huge developmental leap forwards!

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  62. I'd be incredibly curious to know what kind of inroads 'de nada' is making into American English. I hear it often enough and I say it myself as non Spanish speaker, but I also live in a large city and interact with lots of Spanish speakers so there seems a high probability of selection bias.

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  63. Here in Texas the most common response to "Thank you" seems to be "You're very welcome".

    In many parts of the USA, in transactional contexts such as restaurants and stores, a very common response to "Thank you" is "uh-huh".

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  64. Interesting you should mention Cummerbach saying "You're welcome" in "The Imitation Game", because in Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, the book upon which the movie is supposedly loosely based, the author claims that Turing was put off by the American use of "you're welcome" during his years at Princeton.

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  65. I first became aware of the replacement of "You're welcome" when I noted how few guests on NPR used it to respond to the host's "Thank you." Haven't quantitated the frequency of various responses, but "Thank you for having me" would be high on the list. My question is this. I've found the links to the origins of the phrase in 1907 or 1909, but what did we say before then? What phrase or phrases did "You're welcome" replace?

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)