‘Please,’ ‘thank you’ and other kind phrases

August 7, 2022

When we were children, most of us were bombarded with a parental admonition, “What do you say?” Such a statement was preceded by some act which seemed meaningless to us, but for which there was a parent’s demand for you know what.

Thus during those so-called formative years, we learned, whether we wanted to or not, what our parents referred to as good manners. There was something extremely important, at least to those aforementioned parents, in informing total strangers that their child possessed these good manners skills. So, I am not certain that it was the act of knowing what to say upon the conferral of some inane favor, let us say a lollypop, or showing the world at large that we possessed that home training which resulted in “Thank you.”

Then we had the days, weeks and months of constant prodding to say “please” prior to any request. It was not for any request, just for items which we as children would want or like. Recall, if you will, what happened when we asked for that second slice of pie, absent of the p word. That “What do you say” circulated in the background and foreground of mom’s utterances prior to her consideration of the request, far less the granting of same. There were many little things demanded of us as we were being reared, most of which somehow revolved around making communication better, especially child to adult.

Another favorite of the adult ruling class was the use of the phrase, “I’m sorry.” The use of this handy little statement was suggested and urged between and among peers, especially if said humans came from the same womb. In addition, when playing with friends, one learned this tidbit to avoid confrontations which could result in hand-to-hand combat, or worse, eye-to-eye merciless messaging. Inherent, though, in this kind phrase was the degree of veracity which accompanied the statement. We learned oh so quickly that being sorry did not need to be real; it just needed to be said. Ah, one of our early lessons in interactive deception, which usually had a good result either way.

Then there was the ever-popular, “Excuse me!” Let’s augment it with the word which opened this column, “please.” Yes, you remember it, “Excuse me, please.”

There was no questioning the sincerity or veracity of this phrase. The other party could read the true meaning upon the initial utterance. There have been occasions when sarcasm seeps into the tone of the verbal outpour of this particular phrase, but care should be taken to avoid such a phenomenon. We do not need to be tagged as a deceitful personality merely for the incorrect “excuse me” tone.

The question on the table is where are we today with respect to the words and phrases and feelings about which we just spoke. It does appear that there is a dearth of these and/or similar phrases as we humans of all ages relate to one another around town. The absence is clearly noted with respect to parents reminding their children of the importance of these phrases or words which convey a sense and a feeling of courtesy as we traverse the light fantastic of personal interactions on the beach and boardwalk.

Perhaps it is not a total absence, merely a reduction in the use of “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me.” As we begin to improve our concerns one for the other, allow this columnist to suggest a restoration in the use of these and other phrases which express caring and feeling. What additional energy would it really take to thank the person who held the door of the coffee shop open for us? Is there that much effort involved in an extra “please” at Funland every now and then?

There are numerous phrases which abound in our world designed to make our interpersonal relations smoother and better. Showing off parenting skills with respect to the proper verbal utterances made by the children with the statement, “What do you say?” is only the icing, not the cake, but it is a start. Let us try to reinstall that courtesy which was more of a constant in our lives about a decade or so ago. We need to look forward to that next occasion when we can sincerely express our appreciation for an informal portal favor and/or an additional emphatic supplement exhortation for a sought-after possession.



  • Peter E. Carter is a former public school administrator who has served communities in three states as a principal, and district and county superintendent, for 35-plus years. He is a board member for Delaware Botanic Gardens and Cape Henlopen Educational Foundation, and the author of a dual autobiography, “A Black First…the Blackness Continues.”

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