Thinking of thanks
by Mellissa Martinez
In the children’s book Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, Dr. Seuss doles out some solid advice regarding gratitude. An old man sitting on a cactus tells a young boy, “You ought to be thankful a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not!”
He goes on to describe some pretty dire situations like mowing fast-growing grass, painting flagpoles, riding a camel with a loose saddle and living life as a lost left sock. The message is clear…be thankful for what you have and who you are, because both could be worse.
I am grateful for many things this year. I am not sitting on a cactus and, although I possess many single socks, I certainly don’t feel like one. ‘Gratitude,’ Seuss suggests, is about being pleased with what you have. The word comes from the Latin gratus, ‘thankful or pleasing.’ This root also led to ‘grace,’ which at one time meant ‘to thank.’ When we give thanks before a meal, it is referred to as ‘saying grace’ and the Spanish and Italian words for ‘thanks’ are the related gracias and grazie.
‘Grace’ carries a myriad of meanings as a noun and as a verb including ‘adorn,’ ‘dignify,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘style’ and ‘forgiveness,’ and, at one time, it meant ‘mercy.’ Interestingly, the French merci, ‘thank you’ comes from the same root word as English ‘mercy,’ the Latin mercedem, ‘reward,’ ‘wages,’ ‘pay,’ ‘favor,’ or ‘pity.’
Why would giving thanks be the same as showing mercy? Because in many cultures that is exactly what it meant; the act of thanking someone was considered a show of being obliged or at one’s mercy. This notion can be seen in the Portuguese thanks: obrigado, ‘obligated’ and the existing English expression, ‘much obliged.’
This original sense is even present in our modern ‘thank you.’ ‘Thank’ is derived from the Proto-Germanic word for think or thought, thankoz, which also led to the Dutch dank and German danke. The evolution of ‘think’ to ‘thank’ comes from the following custom: when someone did a good deed, it was customary to tell that person that you would remember the deed. The response was generally, I will think of you, which translates to I will remember what you did. Eventually, I think of you became I thank you.
This year when you think of thanks, consider the many lessons we’ve learned from dear Dr. Seuss. As you put away dishes, snack on leftovers and enjoy some time off of work, think of the man on the cactus who says it best, “Thank goodness for all of the things you are not. Thank goodness you’re not something someone forgot.”