I can’t locate the origin of why January is National Thank You month, but it is a great theme to start off any New Year with. However, I can provide you with the origin of the term “thank you.”
Depending on your native tongue, the language you use to express praise, recognition, and thanks in, might affect how you thank people. Your language of origin and that language’s root origin for the word “thanks” will determine how you view and practice giving thanks.
How do you view saying thank you to people? Have you thanked your colleagues or employees recently for the positive things they do for you?
Language Roots Determines Your Thank You Attitude
For example, in Old English the root is pancian, which means to give thanks. This derives from the Proto-German thankojan, which led to the Middle German term danken. The English use of thank you, is a contracted form of the phrase, I thank you. This perspective tells us to be grateful and give thanks to people.
In Latin the origin of the word “thank” comes from the word, “tongēre.” Digging into the root “tong-” you’ll find it means, “to think”. From this point of view, expressing gratitude to someone and thanking them was all about, “I will remember what you have done for me.” Remembering is a good reference point to have when thanking those you work with.
However, the French origin of thank you is very different. The French word for thanks, merci, derives from the Latin word mercēs, which translates to “wages,” “fee” and “price.” Note the monetary or reward focus of the word which gives a leaning towards a transactional and a debt mindset. Today’s use of merci, however, comes from the Old French word mercit and this means reward, gift, kindness, grace, and pity. You’ll probably see how the English word mercy derives from this meaning.
Another interesting language origin is Portuguese and other European language roots. They use the word obrigado originating from the past participle of the Latin obligō – ‘I bind in obligation’. You’ll hear a few people say when they acknowledge the help or kindness shown to them phrases like, much obliged, or I owe you a debt of gratitude. This gives a whole different perspective towards saying thank you. It changes from one of gratitude to indebtedness. Gratitude acknowledges another person’s actions and concludes that interaction. But an indebtedness mindset creates a sense of obligation towards another person for their actions. Now you feel you owe that person something.
A fascinating insight on how our language roots can influence how you give thanks and whether you thank the people around you enough – whether at work, home, or play.
Naturally, don’t thank people just in January. Develop an attitude of gratitude all year round by thinking about what colleagues and friends do for you. Strive to remember these people and their positive actions. Express your thanks to them in whatever medium you can make time to use and which is meaningful to the recipient.
You can also read up on How to Write the Perfect Thank You Card here.
Recognition Reflection: Does your attitude and thinking around the words “thank you,” cause you to express it to people, or not?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.