Why We Say Please

One of the simplest and easiest ways to be kind is to remember your Ps and Qs… specifically, your “P(leases)” and “(thank) Qs.” But it depends where in the world you are. According to Delancey Place, my go-to website for all facts fascinating, some societies don’t have words for please and thank you. In fact, these niceties are a fairly recent – and Western – custom, invented within the last 500 years as this society became more equality-minded and less of a kowtowing people. Up until then, we said please (if it pleases you) and thank you (I’ll think of you, and what you’ve done for me) as “a way to show deference to a lord or master,” according to the well-read Delancey Place folks.

This gem comes from David Graeber’s 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, in which he writes: “Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.”

What fun. When you thank the guy at the newsstand for handing you your change, you’re really telling him that your heart will forever remember he showed you a kindness. And when you ask your sullen teenager to “please” turn off her cellphone at the dinner table, you’re basically saying she doesn’t have to do it unless she feels like it.

I love learning, don’t you? But forgive me (please, thank you) if I don’t share this particular tidbit with my teenager.

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