Originally the phrase was "I thank you" and its use began around 1400. Over time, it was shortened to "thank you".
I was taught to use this phrase as a child, and as an adult I tend to use it rather frequently. Almost any time someone does something for me, or gives me information, I follow up with a sincere 'thank you'. After all, the fact that the waiter/waitress is being paid to bring my food doesn't mean that I appreciate it any less than if they were doing it for free; the fact that someone answers a question through no effort on their part is appreciated as much as if they had to search for the information.
Saying these two little words costs absolutely nothing other than a micro-moment of time, but it seems that I hear this phrase, less and less often. And that bothers me. Yes, I know, life gets busy, we're all overscheduled, we have too much on our minds and on our calendars. But still.
Not long ago, I finally gave in and got a 'smart' phone. You know, one of those you can talk to. Even if you don't have one, and you've somehow managed to avoid having any family or friends who have one, you've certainly seen the commercials where people talk to their phone. "Siri, where is the closest restaurant?" "Sherpa, what is the temperature in Cancun?" "Jeannie, how many movies has Brad Pitt starred in?" Now, I do realize that there is not a real person at the other end of the line, just waiting for me to ask something. But even so, after I receive the requested assistance, I find myself automatically thinking - and sometimes saying - 'thank you' to my phone. The phone doesn't have ears of course, I have to push a button in order for it to start 'listening', so it's not as if I'm really thanking anyone. But I got to thinking. And the next time I asked for information and then received the information, I pushed the little button and said "Thank you". And my phone replied. She said "You don't have to thank me, Laurie."
Whoa! My phone said I didn't have to thank her? I wasn't sure I liked this. True, the phone was an inanimate object, but the makers of the phone have gone to great lengths to make it seem like the phone is - well - a person. What sort of lesson was this? Why were the programmers behind my phone trying to undo 600 years of courtesy?
Well. Before you snicker at my foolishness and walk away, I have some good news to report. At first, I was taken aback at the suggestion that I didn't need to express thanks and appreciation. But I've been known to be a bit stubborn (Quit snickering, I say!), and so I've continued to thank my phone. And I'm delighted to say that she no longer tells me I don't have to thank her. Sometimes she tells me that my satisfaction is the only thanks she needs, sometimes she tells me that she was glad to be of assistance, and sometimes she merely says You're Welcome. Apparently, I was not the only one who thought it appropriate to express appreciation - even to my smart phone.
Am I suggesting that we all start thanking our Android phones, and our iPhones, and our iPads? Of course not. And frankly, even if I automatically say thank you when my phone does what I ask it to, I'll stop pushing the button so that my phone 'hears' me. But I am delighted to see that the brains behind the fake person in my phone has realized the importance of encouraging the use of Thank you.