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Many people say "thanks for sharing" and seem to mean something positive and meaningful by it.

However, it seems to also have a cold and even sarcastic connotation to it, e.g.:

"I got married last week" / "Thanks for sharing."

"I got divorced last week" / "Thanks for sharing."

In fact, the urban dictionary gives this definition of it:

a sarcastic phrase meaning "that was really gross/inappropriate/stupid and you're an idiot." Comes from group therapy, where everyone is encouraged to share their feelings and is recognized for sharing.

Does anyone have any data on e.g. how English speaking populations view this phrase, e.g. well-intentioned or sarcastic? Or perhaps any etymology of the phrase, where it came from, how it grew in popularity, and how the meaning of it started to change?

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1  
In my experience, that phrase is almost always used sarcastically. "Thanks for telling me" or "Thanks for letting me know" sound more sincere to my ear. –  George Cummins Mar 14 at 16:23
    
I don't see what exactly you're looking for here. Obviously as you've seen from Urban Dictionary, it's basically a trite acknowledgement stereotypically associated with group therapy sessions. As such, it would normally be sarcastic in any other contexts. Why did it grow in popularity? Because people sometimes need a more specific alternative to TMI, I guess. –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 at 16:27

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Another definition of the phrase on Urban Dictionary attributes the phrase, in its sarcastic usage, at least, to Bob, a sitcom starring Bob Newhart as a psychiatrist. While I hesitate to take this particular uncited claim to be a definitive proof, it seems to me to at least be representative of the most logical reason as to how the seemingly innocuous phrase would take root in our culture in such a sarcastic way.

The phrase likely originated in a psychological context as an attempt by psychologists and group-therapists to help provide validity to the personal experience of patients, and to encourage them to keep talking about and sharing their problems.

"Thank you for sharing (your story)!"

This particular usage has also been picked up by some teachers, especially teachers of the humanities, to encourage people to develop their own opinions and have their own voice, on the basis that "no opinion is wrong".

"Thank you for sharing (your opinion)!"

This phrase may also be used (by a much different teacher) as an attempt to move on and avoid giving a particularly controversial (or possibly "crazy") perspective much class time, in which case the phrase would generally be followed by a new question regarding the same topic or an immediate topic change.

Both fields in their modern form find themselves under much scrutiny (deserved or otherwise) for their supposed pandering to individuals' feelings of entitlement and the need to be viewed as "special", and so, unfortunately, often the younger, less-experienced professionals in the fields of psychology and education are stereotyped as the archetypal camp counselor who refuses to be sad and refuses to let anyone else be sad because we are all special snowflakes in our own way!

Outside of those fields, however, the phrase is unlikely to be heard in any serious context; the more common usage, definitively, is a sarcastic one. This stems from the fact that a large number of people believe that some opinions and some experiences are better left unsaid, or that some opinions are blatantly false and not worth arguing.

One relatively common example of the phrase's use is as a way for an individual to point out to another individual that the information they have shared is exceedingly inappropriate to be sharing with the present audience.

"I have had diarrhea all week!"

"Thanks for sharing."

Similarly, the phrase can also be used as a response to a statement which is believed to be boring or irrelevent to anyone aside from the one who made the statement. An individual using the phrase in this particular situation is expressing his or her lack of interest in the topic, or, more specifically, lack of interest in discussing the topic.

"Sometimes, when my dog howls, it sounds like he's saying 'hello!'"

"Thanks for sharing."

Often, the statement in question is relevant to a conversation, but random enough to risk derailing it, and so the phrase is used in an attempt to dismiss the comment made and carry on with the (theoretically more important) ongoing discussion.

"... Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how the situation in Russia will play out."

"Oh my God, I just saw the cutest Russian doll the other day..."

"Thanks for sharing. Anyways, I think we should..."

The above examples seem to be the most common day-to-day usages. The phrase is a way for an individual to dismissively remind another individual that he or she is not, in fact, that person's therapist (mocking the psychological field). It follows the line of logic, more or less, that the speaker would need to pay the individual using the phrase (as a therapist) for that individual to shoulder the burden of listening to them. The individual is attempting to remind the speaker that here, in the real world, not every thought or fact is intrinsically valuable, and so not every thought or fact is worth sharing. The third example, in particular, also can have ties to the educational field, as it is often an attempt to ensure that the conversation stays more or less "academic" (or, at the very least, "serious") in nature.

However, as is growing increasingly common in the vernacular of America's youth, the phrase can also be used in the context of an argument to dismiss a perspective or opinion deemed by to be lacking intellectual merit, due to devil's advocacy or due to a disconnection from reality (in the opinion of the individual using the phrase), and therefore deemed unworthy of consideration or response (mocking the educational field). This phrase is usually used, in this usage, before the originally speaker has a chance to back up his or her claim, in order to avoid a lengthy and "pointless" argument.

"Evolution is a myth."

"Thanks for sharing."

The main idea in both of these usages is that everyone present would probably be a whole lot better off if the speaker had not shared with the group what they just said, in stark contrast to the use of the phrase in a more psychologically therapeutic (or intellectually "open") setting.

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+1 - very thorough. –  medica Mar 14 at 21:05
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Nice answer. The last section reminds me of a friend who used to work on environmental compliance for highway construction projects. Many governments require that the project's environmental impact plan be reviewed by the public and that all comments from the public be documented and replied to. Her job was, among other things, to reply publically to all such comments with "Comment noted." So now when someone brings up an argument which I'd like to not have, I just say "comment noted" and move on. –  Eric Lippert Mar 14 at 22:37

Outside of therapeutic groups or story telling hours, the phrase is usually sarcasm. (Yes, you could thank someone for giving you a slice of their cake, etc. But, that is too obvious a usage to warrant the question.)

It means:

That's a piece of information that has no bearing on my existence. (For example: Someone tells you about the cute thing their cat did.)

or

I didn't want to know that. (For example: when someone describes their latest bowel movement.)

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= Cool story, bro. –  choster Mar 14 at 16:39
    
@choster Another favorite!!! –  David M Mar 14 at 16:44
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I find that too much information (TMI) is used in the second example as well, especially if sarcasm isn't exactly warranted (which in the case of your second example, it is). –  medica Mar 14 at 21:08

I don't think it's normally used in a sarcastic way, though it could be. It just means "thanks for telling us what you've just told us", though why this could be described as "sharing" is something I couldn't answer. But the therapy industry likes to invent touchy-feely language like that, and the therapy industry is where it comes from. With repetition it's as annoying as "Hope this helps".

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Assuming you don't run group therapy sessions yourself, have you ever had reason to use the expression in a non-sarcastic context? –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 at 16:28
    
What @Fumblefingers said. –  David M Mar 14 at 16:29
    
I've never used it in any context. Have you? –  Terpsichore Mar 14 at 17:33
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+1 - I do see it used in non-therapeutic settings in a genuine manner, usually when someone has gone to some trouble to find something worthwhile to, well, share. It's not always sarcastic (though it is very often used this way, esp. by men.) Maybe it's an AmE thing. I do know it was overused in a non-sarcastic manner a decade ago, which changes it's focus. –  medica Mar 14 at 21:04
    
@Susan - The place you're most likely to find it used sarcastically is Youtube, where posters arrive and depart without coming across each other again. Trolls proliferate in arenas like that. On smaller forums with a regular membership, it's much less likely. On one forum where I've spent time it's been used often enough, usually in cases where one of the members is talking about troubles in their private life, but I've never known it used sarcastically. –  Terpsichore Mar 14 at 22:24

"Thanks for sharing" means what you said was inappropriate, stupid and just not appreciated.

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Thanks for sharing. –  KitFox Mar 17 at 1:27

well, what about using the same phrase to post a comment on somebody's FB picture. I can use it in a nonsarcastic way, and I'm pretty much certain it'd be understood as such. You post a nice picture of you or a place you visited, and I may comment 'thanks for sharing'. It means I appreciate the time you took to post this, and I'm glad that you shared this moment with us.

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You might be surprised by how some people are interpreting your comment. –  Scott Jun 28 at 18:57
    
Thanks for sharing, Scott. –  user82457 Jun 28 at 19:21

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