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I've heard someone say "Much obliged!" a couple of times, instead of the usual "Thank you!". A common phrase in Portuguese ("Muito Obrigado") and maybe other languages, but certainly unusual in English. My question is: is it old-fashioned? Polite? Or pedantic?

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When used as "I am much obliged!" it takes on a certain formality. When used as "Much obliged," it has a certain hokey quality that makes it sound like a line from an old Western movie. – David M Feb 17 '14 at 16:32
Off topic (hence the comment) but which dialect of Spanish is this common in? I have never heard it used in Spain (and it makes no sense since obligado only carries the meaning of being forced to do something). – terdon Feb 17 '14 at 16:34
@terdon Sorry, my mistake. As a matter-of-fact it is only in Portuguese that we find exactly the same words and the same meaning. "Muito Obrigado!" means exactly that one feels indebted to another person. – Centaurus Feb 17 '14 at 22:04
Gratitude pure and simple. – un5t0ppab13 Nov 18 at 2:28

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In Britain it is a fairly normal everyday colloquialism, used in different ways. For example:

When someone has done you a favour: 'Thanks indeed, much obliged!'

A farmer speaking to someone who has asked permission to walk across his land: 'Yes, that's perfectly alright, but I'd be much obliged if you would close the gates behind you as you go'.

Reporting an experience to a friend; 'I felt very much obliged to the policeman who helped me get the car back on the road.'

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It is a reasonably common alternative to "thank you" in the American Southern regional dialects, based on my experience. It also has an old-fashioned feel courtesy of western movies, so some may use it in a tongue-in-cheek or archaic flavor to hearken back to that era.

"Much obliged, ma'am."

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I agree with this. Especially without the "I am" in front of it. It is more hokey than fancy. – David M Feb 17 '14 at 16:31
There's an old Southern US regionalism that describes someone who's a "taker" as having "a handful of 'gimme' and a mouthful of 'much obliged'." Dizzy Gillespie used it as a song title in the 40s. – Jim Mack Feb 18 '14 at 4:29

Obligation means indebtedness, so to use it in the phrase "much obliged" is to say "I am indebted to you". I would say it is polite, but no more so than a prim "Thank you". It can also be considered old-fashioned; it originated some time in the late 1500s and became popular in the 1600s. It's used much less today. However, it's only slightly older than "thank you":

Google Ngram

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There is a subtle difference. "Thank you" is just a statement of gratitude. (which will quickly be forgotten)

"Much Obliged" is an acknowledgement that the recipient of the kindness or courtesy is now obligated to return the favor, or pass it along to a 3rd person when they are in a position to do so.

It's a kind of cowboy karma.

It's a hokey version of the more informal (between good friends) "thanks, I owe you one!"

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I don't consider "Much obliged" to be "hokey" at all. That said, in conversation, it is a bit dated, but in correspondence, especially in email, it is similar to "Thank you" but with the feeling of indebtedness others have mentioned here.

It is indeed a more sincere way of saying "I owe you one," something that is quite casual and to me sounds a bit flippant.

Reading the above comments gave me (and surely would give non-native speakers) the feeling that it is very hokey ("cowboy karma" ?? lol) but I beg to differ!

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Thank you. I was getting a tad annoyed at how many people seem to think it's "prim and proper" (in the uptight sort of way) or "hokey". So it's not as commonly used here in the US. Big woop. That doesn't make it hokey to say it. Personally, I find it to be very gentleperson-like. A kind gesture that can mean anything from "thank you" to "I am indebted to you" or anything in between depending on the context; the phrase "thank you" I've found to be mostly the same in terms of diversity of meaning. – SarahofGaia Jul 22 at 16:10

protected by tchrist Jan 26 at 14:32

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