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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 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 at 16:34
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@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 at 22:04

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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 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 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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