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A Question

After decades of doing it for some reason it occurred to me today that the standard American response to “Thank you” is actually fairly odd.

What does “You’re welcome” have to do with it?

8 comments

1 Badtux { 01.06.13 at 1:56 pm }

It’s an acknowledgement that you’re pleased at being thanked?

2 Steve Bates { 01.06.13 at 5:42 pm }

All the young people I know respond “No problem,” which is even more irrelevant, and usually not true!

3 Bryan { 01.06.13 at 10:40 pm }

Some more information – I have been asked about this by some non-native English speakers who don’t understand why we use the adjective, “welcome”, in this situation. I didn’t have any idea.

Actually, “No problem” is essentially what you say is many other languages, Steve, and is easy to translate.

There must be a reason that has been lost over time.

4 Badtux { 01.07.13 at 10:22 am }

If you say ‘I welcome your thanks’ it means ‘I accept it and approve of it.’ I have no idea how that got shortened down to “You’re welcome” though.

5 Kryten42 { 01.07.13 at 10:33 am }

Well… Acording to “Kitty” (how appropriate) on Yahoo! Answers:

Good question! I didn’t know the answer so I researched it a bit.

The phrase you’re welcome, as a response to thank you, dates only from the early part of the 20th century. The first record of it is in W. W. Jacobs’ Short Cruises: “‘Thank you,’ said the girl, with a pleasant smile. ‘You’re quite welcome,’ said the skipper.” This usage popped up so late because welcome meant “well come” (i.e., one’s arrival was pleasing) prior to that time, and that was broadened to include such meanings as “pleasing” or “acceptable”. That group of meanings, however, arose in Middle English due to the influence of Old French bien venu, “welcome” (literally, “well come”). In Old English, welcome, which had the form wilcuma, meant “one whose coming is pleasing” or applied to someone who was “acceptable as a visitor”. It was formed from wil- or will- “will, desire” and cuma “comer, guest”.

The sense in you’re welcome is one of “it was pleasing to me to do” whatever it was that you were thanked for.

Source(s): I googled it!

Where did the phrase “you’re welcome” come from?

So Bryan, you are not the first to ask. :D

BTW, the above reference is found in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary):

OED: ” d. you are (or you’re) welcome: a polite formula used in response to an expression of thanks.
[1907 W. W. JACOBS Short Cruises ii. 34 'Thank you,' said the girl, with a pleasant smile. 'You're quite welcome,' said the skipper.]“

6 Bryan { 01.07.13 at 7:39 pm }

So, we will never really know why W.W. Jacobs decided to do this to us, but the usage was accepted.

I really should get the OED on disk, but the sucker really is expensive. None of what pass for libraries in this area have it available to the general public.

7 Kryten42 { 01.08.13 at 9:16 am }

Don’t bother m8! It’s not worth the money, even at half the price! I have v4 (from 2010) and it only works on XP (and even then I had a hell of a time). It uses the old ShockWave Flash (.SWF) format, and only works with their bundled viewer, which is a 16-bit app! I used my trusty hard-bound OED Concise Edition (only 1 volume, the full OED is 20). ;) It’s cheaper and far more reliable! :lol:

You can get an online subscription to the full OED and other resources for US$49.95/yr. Info here:

Oxford Dictionaries Pro Subscription

And this is what you get for your money:

What can you do with an Oxford Dictionaries Pro subscription

8 Bryan { 01.08.13 at 10:45 pm }

Thanks for the link, even if it is going to cost me money. The Concise is a solid dictionary for almost everything except when you are dealing with English language documents more than a century old. Some words have changed radically over time and the OED is the only resource that really covers those changes for so much of the language. When you are trying to understand why people did things it is important to know what they wrote at the time doesn’t have the same meaning today.

The problem with people basing arguments on dictionary definitions, is whether the definition is valid for the time in question. A good example is the Liberal Party of Australia which reflects a much older meaning of ‘liberal’ which is referred to as ‘conservative’. It does tend to change what you think you read.