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The least I can do
puzzling !
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2013/08/20
2:39pm
RobertB
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When a person is thanked or commended for a good deed, comes back the gentleman’s demur: ‘The least I can do.’  That’s all nice and good, except a bit puzzling: Why did you not do your best, why hold back?

What would be a better demurral?

2013/08/20
3:00pm
tromboniator
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I don’t know why we have to stoop to false modesty in such situations, but something along the lines of, “I didn’t really do much,” or, “It was nothing” to deny the value of one’s action seems to be expected. It sounds to me like a ploy to elicit higher praise: “How can you say that? I can never thank you enough! You’re my hero!” A simple “You’re welcome” should suffice, or “Glad to do it.” I think the demurral cheapens the gratitude, and it rarely sounds genuine.

 

Peter

2013/08/20
9:42pm
Dick
Fort Worth, TX
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My observation is that a garden variety “thank you” usually gets a cliche for a response. Even “thank you”, which is totally appropriate can be meaningless. It is all just common courteous interaction between people. I don’t speak Spanish but I understand that the common response to “gracias” (thank you) is “da nada” (it’s nothing).  I fall into the pattern of cliches myself but I do try to vary my response and put a little thought into it. I might say “any time”, or “you are very welcome”, or if I’m really on top of it I might say something like, “I am pleased to be able to help”.

I can easily accept most cliches as being simple courtesy but I do have one pet peeve. I don’t like it when someone responds to a “thank you” with “no problem.”

2013/08/22
5:08am
Glenn
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I’m really bad in the whole deal of social patter. These kinds of exchange all seem more like kabuki to me than conversation — a sort of formal dance-drama of words filled with arcane expectations. A kind of societal knock-knock joke with expected call and response. I often get it wrong.

– You’re too kind.
No, I’m not.

[sneeze].
— God bless you.
How nice.

As a result, I’m with tromboniator. “You’re welcome” is usually all I can muster to a “thank you.” For words of praise, a simple “thank you” seems to do the trick.

As a student of languages, my difficulty with formal conversational elements poses more than a few problems. In Chinese, for example, there are very different forms of “thank you” for different situations. One common pitfall for Americans speaking Chinese is to use the wrong “thank you.” The most commonly known “thank you,” Pinyin xièxie (traditional 謝謝, simplified 谢谢), is used when you have been given something. Often, when an American has been complimented or praised, he will respond with xièxie. Big mistake. It comes off as being very proud since, by accepting the praise with gratitude, you feel you deserve the praise. The correct way to respond is essentially to deny the compliment. The most common is Pinyin nÇŽlǐ (traditional 哪裡, simplified 哪里), which means “where?” or “nowhere.” Think “No way!” in English (You look mahvelous! — No way!). When I have been in conversations in Chinese and they compliment my Chinese (I hope you now realize not to take that as too strong an indication of the quality of my Chinese, but rather more like they are saying “Oh, you speak Chinese!”), if I remember to respond with nÇŽlǐ, only then can I see their facial expression change to show some (genuine?) respect of my command of the language.

In English, we have it EASY!

2013/08/23
1:33am
tromboniator
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[sneeze].
— God bless you.
How nice.

It baffles me why a sneeze merits a response at all, where a cough, burp, or fart can be politely ignored. Humans are weird.

2013/08/23
10:29am
New River, AZ, USA
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Tromboniator said: It baffles me why a sneeze merits a response at all, where a cough, burp, or fart can be politely ignored.

Saying “God bless you.” when someone sneezes makes perfect sense, since a sneeze is often associated with a cold or other illness, so it’s only polite to wish them well with their health. Curious that same reasoning doesn’t apply to coughs. That said …

Humans are indeed weird. I know several people who say “excuse me” when they sneeze, but remain silent after a (nominal) cough, burp, or fart. The occasional exception seems to occur for prolonged coughing while someone else is trying to talk, which warrants an “excuse me,” or a burp or fart while at the dinner table or in an elevator. Go figure.

It seems to be largely a personal choice people just make. No sense or consistency to it at all. It’s not so much about spreading germs, since both a sneeze and a cough (and probably a burp) can all do that. But if the person is quick enough to put a hankie or a napkin over their face, then no “excuse me” should be needed.

I’ve also considered that a sneeze or fart can usually be suppressed, so any that slip by need an “excuse me.” Whereas a cough or burp is sometimes too reflexive to suppress, so since it was unavoidable, no “excuse me” is required.

And then, of course, most often with farts, it seems to be a matter of volume, where the perpetrator asks themselves “Was that loud enough to be heard?” If so, an “excuse me” would be in order. If it was inaudible, no admission of guilt is needed. Although in an enclosed space like an elevator or car, with only two occupants, there’s another “sensory clue” beyond sound that makes it kinda hard to bluff, and so might again require an “excuse” me.

I think it all comes down to bodily functions being such a personal and cultural thing that no consistency should even be expected. Humans are weird, especially when it comes to bodily functions. 

2013/08/23
3:12pm
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tromboniator said


[sneeze].
— God bless you.
How nice.

It baffles me why a sneeze merits a response at all, where a cough, burp, or fart can be politely ignored. Humans are weird.

For the blessing, there is nothing definitive, but Google verifie the story I heard forty to fifty years ago is one possibility. Namely, an ancient Plague outbreak had the people thinking an early symptom was sneezing. The blesser was attempting to call God’s grace down on the sneezer so survival was procured.

If so, traditions have a way of hanging on.

BTW, have the cough, burp, or fart been popularly associated with a serious disease? (Note: coughing with blood meant consumption–coughing sans blood, not so much.)

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