English English language Etymology Expression Phrase origin Usage Word origin

A “thank you” note

Q: I’m designing a client brochure that includes thanks from numerous folks. The heading reads: “Season’s Greeting and thank you’s from our scholars.” Is the use of “thank you’s” OK? Doesn’t this make it possessive, not plural? But without the apostrophe, “thank yous” looks typically “Jersey” to me!

A: We see no reason why “thank you” has to be pluralized here. But if you want to use the plural, a phrase like “thank you” is pluralized by simply adding the letter “s.”

We agree, though, that “thank yous” looks a bit odd. It might look less so if you added a hyphen (“thank-yous”) or capital letters (“Thank Yous”) or perhaps both (“Thank-Yous”).

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), which hyphenates “thank-you,” gives this plural example: “said their thank-yous and departed.”

Although you may raise a few eyebrows with the use of “thank yous,” you’ll raise a lot more by using “Season’s Greeting” rather than the more idiomatic “Season’s Greetings.”

If we were writing the heading for that brochure, we’d go with this: “Season’s Greetings and Thank You from our scholars.”

As for the Jerseyism you mentioned, we had an item on our blog some time ago about “yous,” “yinz,” “yez,” “y’all,” and other nonstandard plural forms of “you.”

We also had a post around the same time about why some people respond to “thank you” with a “thank you” of their own instead of “you’re welcome.”

And if you’re not thanked-out by now, you might be interested in our views about the expression “thank you kindly.”

Getting back to “thank you” itself, the Oxford English Dictionary says it showed up in Middle English as a short form of the expression “I thank you.”

The OED’s earliest citation is from Why I Can’t Be a Nun, a poem from the 1400s that criticizes religious institutions:

“ ‘Thanke yow, lady,’ quod I than. ‘And thereof hertely I yow pray.’ ” (We’ve expanded the citation.)

The use of “thank you” as a noun phrase referring to an expression of gratitude appeared in the late 1700s, according to OED citations.

The first citation is from a 1792 journal entry by the English novelist Fanny Burney: “He looked even extremely gratified … & Bowed expressively a thank you.”

The earliest example of the noun phrase used in the plural is from the Aug. 21, 1894, issue of the Westminster Gazette:

“The majority of passengers retreated from the tables regardless of their running fire of ‘thankyous,’ which were thankyous for nothing.”

The phrase is hyphenated in this example from the Sept. 1, 1900, issue of the Westminster Gazette:  “We had not said nearly enough ‘thank-yous.’ ”

As for “season’s greetings,” the earliest references we’ve found in Google Books are from the mid-19th century. We’ll end with this example from a Dec. 29, 1860, item in the Medical and Surgical Reporter, a weekly journal in Philadelphia:

“We offer our readers, far and near, the season’s greetings — of a Christmas gone and the New Year dawning. Much of hope and good cheer we want all; for ourselves, for our profession, for our country.”

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