The History of ‘Thank You’ Around the World

January is not only the start of a new year, but it’s also recognized as National Thank You Month. How did English speakers get the phrase “thank you?” According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of “thanks” occurred before the 12th century, but it didn’t exactly translate to “gratitude” back then.

The word “thank” stems from the Latin word tongēre. The root tong- means “think.” Loosely translated, the expression might read “I will remember what you have done for me.” However, English is not the only language where “thank you” derives from Latin roots.

In Spanish, the word gracias means “thank you” and derives from the Latin phrase, gratias agere, which means “to express thanks.” In Italian, grazie is used to say “thank you” and it also derives from gratias agere. Although there are similarities between English and Spanish, French has a different origin for its phrase of gratitude.

Merci derives from the Latin word mercēs, which translates to “wages, fee, or price.” However, the modern use of merci comes from the Old French meaning of the word mercit which means “reward, gift, kindness, grace, and pity.” The Old French meaning of merci is where the English word, “mercy,” derives from.

In Japanese, ありがとう (Arigatou) is the phrase used to say “thanks.” It is derived from the word, arigatashi. We can break the word down into Aru, meaning “to exist,” and katai, meaning “difficult.” Japanese-speakers would use this phrase to mean “extremely uncommon” and “rare and precious.”

Even though the language of “thank you” dates back hundreds of years ago, the concept of gratitude has always been a piece of human interaction. The fact that nearly every language today embodies the idea of thanking someone is incredible and goes to show how human communication can survive across different cultures and times.

Today, take the time to say “thank you” to anyone and everyone who deserves gratitude. Whether it’s in English, Mandarin, or sign language— show your appreciation for those around you. Need help translating or interpreting your message? Call Access 2 Interpreters for your needs. We speak your language!

Share this story!