Thursday, March 29, 2012

A LAMENT FOR THE WORDS “YOU’RE WELCOME”



After checking out at a local supermarket and as I accepted my change that the check-out girl was returning to me, I said “thank you.”  She looked at me, smiled and said, “No problem.”
Later I visited a hardware store, looking for a new door knob for our home.  I knew that they must have door knobs in that store, but for the life of me I could not find them.  Seeing a stock boy putting boxes of nails on a shelf, I asked him if he could direct me to the right isle.  After he told me, I thanked him, to which he replied, “not a problem.”
I had been out of the country for a few years.  On coming back home after such a long absence, one notices small changes of many kinds; changes that might otherwise come about without being aware of them.  The replacement of, “you’re welcome” as the response to “thank you” of is one of these. As any visit to the grocery store will show you, it is now most common to say, “no problem,” instead of “you’re welcome.” It is not a change that carries great importance, but nevertheless, as I walked away from the stores, it left me thinking while I may not have been exactly “welcome,” I was glad that at least I had not been a problem to the people.
Certainly, I understand that these two friendly people did not mean this at all.  Indeed, I had felt that their response really meant that I was welcome.  It is simply that the language had changed in my absence.  English is, after all, a living language; unlike ancient Greek which is no longer in common usage so does not change.  English is constantly changing and being modified in its usage.


However, I would like to lament, for a few minutes, the disappearance of the words, “you are welcome.”
After thanking someone, we may be relieved to hear that we had not been a problem to them.  After all, I have also in the past been helped by individuals who have made it plain to me that even though they may have helped me, I had been a problem to them and had disrupted their day – and that they were glad to be rid of me.  Nevertheless, in my trips to the grocery store and the hardware store, even if I had not been a problem, would it not have been be much nicer to hear that I had been welcome for the help?
I am always sad to see graceful words fall from common usage.  The word “Welcome” is one of these.  Even the dictionary definition is happy to read:  “Received with pleasure and hospitality…gratifying…cordially permitted to do or enjoy.”  That is what it is to be welcome.  The last definition is the best: “Freely granted one’s courtesy.  Used to acknowledge an expression of gratitude.”
The word “welcome,” as we can easily see, is really two words blended into one: “well” and “come.”  The two words together were, in the early days, reserved as a greeting for a desirable, or a pleasing guest.  This was a welcome guest.  But if some guests were welcome, there were others who were not.  There were others who were viewed as a problem of one kind or another.
The definition of the word “problem” is not so enjoyable to read.  “A situation that presents difficulty…a person who is difficult to deal with.”  It is also two words (from ancient Greek – it is not completely dead) that are put together which carries with it the idea of throwing forth a dagger or a javelin.  I have sometimes felt, when I have asked someone for help, that he considered my petition as a dagger stuck into his schedule that ruined his day. So, I suppose one should be grateful when we at least are not a problem.
But how much nicer to be welcome.  “You, sir, have been to me a desirable guest.  I have received your petition with pleasure and freely grant you my courtesy.”
Well, that may seem like that is a little much and I don’t expect to hear this, but it really is embodied in the simple phrase, “You’re welcome.”
Pleasantries and courtesies have been two victims of our modern world.  They seem to us to be pretentious and pompous displays of insincerity of a past age.  To be honest, much of it may have been.  But it was not all artificial, and it certainly does not need to be this way.  Being pleasant and being courteous demonstrates that we deem the other person as important and as worthy of our attention.  Not only do they not present a problem to us, they are to us a welcome guest.
That is why if you should find yourself thanking me for something, I hope you will not hear the words from me, “no problem.”  I will try to hold on to this relic of the past and respond, “You are welcome.”

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