Friday, January 27, 2012

Thank you in advance

With great anticipation earlier this month, I turned to the list annually composed by Lake Superior State University of the words and phrases that it believes should be "banished" from the English language. I can always count on that list to include a few of my pet peeves each year. Would it have “move the needle”? “A lot on your plate”? “The elephant in the room”? Maybe even the ubiquitous "Seriously?"?

No, but nestled among “ginormous,” “baby bump” and “shared sacrifice,” it did have something I was surprised to see: a phrase I use all the time. “Thank you in advance.”

Thank you in advance? What’s wrong with that? I feel like I’m constantly closing emails with “Thank you in advance,” because it seems I’m always writing to ask people for favors. “Thank you in advance” means “I really hope you’ll do this for me, and so I’m thanking you now as capital.” But what it really means to me is “Thanks for taking the time to consider doing what I’ve asked,” except to put it like that sounds so plaintive. It suggests I’ve already taken advantage of the askee merely by expecting him or her to read through my request. It suggests I’ve already gotten as much from him or her as I can possibly expect: you’ve considered my request and I really can’t ask for more than that. Except I am. So thanks in advance for the fact that maybe you’ll do it.

Of course, that translation inevitably prompts the question: So what if the askee won’t do it? Do I then revoke my thanks? How do you phrase a conditional thanks: Thank you if you will; no appreciation from me at all if you won’t? Here’s my thanks, banking on your complicity; please return it with interest earned if your answer is no.

All of those are too complicated. “Thank you in advance” seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise to me. It gets in the all-important expression of humility, gratitude and appreciation while also conceding that some requests simply won’t be granted. “Thank you in advance" might could well be my epitaph: “Thank you for bothering to visit my grave; thank you to whoever commissioned this tombstone; thank you for standing here in this cemetery for a moment reading about my life.”

Who put it on the phrases-to-be banished list and why? Whoever it was, I hope he or she will reconsider, because it’s a highly useful phrase that truly has no reason to cause offense to anyone. So please give some thought to revoking it from the list. And thank you. In advance.

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