8

"You're welcome" as a response to "thank you" makes absolutely no sense. You're welcome to what?

1

4 Answers 4

7

The first references to welcome are found in Beowolf.

By 1300, “welcome” was being used more loosely to describe something acceptable, pleasurable, freely permitted, or cordially invited.

From Othello: (circa 1603):

Lodovico: Madam, good night; I humbly thank your ladyship.
Desdemona: Your honour is most welcome.

From the linked source:

A reader found an earlier citation in The House by the Churchyard, an 1863 novel by the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu: “ ‘I thank ye again, sir.’ ‘You’re welcome, my honey,’ rejoined Toole, affectionately.”

I don't find it at all mysterious. I imagine it like

You have done well to come to me; I am pleased to do it.

I was taught to say it. In French, they say avec plaisir (with pleasure) or de rien (it's nothing), in Spanish, con gusto (with pleasure) or de nada (it's nothing.) *

(Source)

*In the part of Quebec where my parents were born, "Bienvenu" (you're welcome) was the response to "thank you". I actually never heard "de rien" until I was in France, although I don't know what the answer is in Montreal.

8
  • 3
    Interesting. I think there is another way to understand it. You are welcome would be You are welcome to my help using help as a noun, in a similar way that we could say (You are) welcome to our home: that is something we are pleased to do/to happen. It fits your translation into spanish as Con gusto although it is usually translated as meaning it was nothing (de nada).
    – user261930
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:05
  • 1
    @santimirandarp - I agree that de nada and de rien are very common responses to "Thank you". I myself would say de nada when speaking Spanish with Hispanics at work. It's a lot like the English answers, "Not at all/no problem/It's nothing." Apr 12, 2018 at 15:23
  • Yes, and it means that the common translation of you are welcome as de nada is wrong. I have added an answer. Not sure if it is right but just another point of view.
    – user261930
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:55
  • 2
    @santimirandarp translation is often not word for word or even for denotational equivalence. For things like phaticisms, they're often just meaningless mantras that are elicited automatically in the social context. It's just what you are supposed to say, little more.
    – Mitch
    Apr 12, 2018 at 16:05
  • 1
    @santimirandarp There is no doubt that the word welcome slid over slightly in meaning. I was addressing your statement that 'the common translation of you're welcome as da nada is wrong' is wrong. A close translation, trying to preserve word translations from English into Spanish would give you something in Spanish that translated back, in the same style, no English speaker word ever consider saying. And translating 'da nada', has many socially equivalent alternatives in English including 'you're welcome'
    – Mitch
    Apr 12, 2018 at 16:20
5

It is actually a sensible response to thank you. All you have to do is look at the modern replacements for it.

When someone thanks me, I'm often wont to say "No problem!" as my response. Or, "It was my pleasure." and so on.

The welcome in you're welcome is a statement saying: *I would do this for you again, if asked." (i.e. You're welcome to ask me again.) See Susan's excellent answer for the origins and evolving usages of the word welcome.

Now, this may or not be a true statement. If someone thanks you for donating a kidney, and you hazily say "You're welcome!" I do not believe that anyone would think you would happily donate the other kidney.

But, on the other hand. A think a thank you for a larger favor rarely elicits a simple you're welcome in response. Rather, after donating a kidney, one would probably gush on about how this person is an important part of their life and they couldn't bear to stand by whilst they were dying, and so-on.

In short: You're welcome to accept this as the correct answer. And, if you do, I will thank you.

3
  • where is susan's excellent answer?
    – user261930
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:44
  • @santimirandarp - That would be me before name change. :) Apr 12, 2018 at 17:22
  • 1
    Oh, I see. So David was right...;) @anongoodnurse
    – user261930
    Apr 12, 2018 at 17:23
2

From this etymonline entry, about welcome:

Old English wilcuma "welcome!" exclamation of kindly greeting, from earlier wilcuma (n.) "welcome guest," literally "one whose coming suits another's will or wish,"

So in both, when you say welcome (home) or you are welcome (to my help) there is an implication of pleasure. I think that's the key: think of both as related to pleasure.

It fits the translation of welcome as bienvenido and you are welcome as con gusto as said in one previous answer, because they are related to pleasure.

Sidenote

In spanish language you are welcome is also translated as It was nothing, but seems not to be the proper translation. Another explanation can be that You are welcome has changed its meaning from It was a pleasure to It was nothing.

1
  • 1
    +1 for "Another explanation can be that You are welcome has changed its meaning from It was a pleasure to It was nothing." Apr 12, 2018 at 17:41
0

Merriam-Webster online gives two relevant definitions for the adjective:

  • giving pleasure : received with gladness or delight especially in response to a need ("a welcome relief")

and, probably more relevant

  • willingly permitted or admitted ("he was welcome to come and go" — W. M. Thackeray)

The implication of "you're welcome" in response to "thank you" is that the action for which the thanking party is grateful was willingly and happily given -- it was a pleasure on the part person being thanked.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.