Sunday, December 26, 2004
WORD FOR WORD: Do we have a word for 'thank you'? —Khaled Ahmed
'Thank you' is an expression of a trust-based society. It comes with the start of commerce. Warriors don't say 'thank you'. It could have come spontaneously from a victim when a warrior spared a non-warrior. In Pakistan, 'thank you' and 'sorry' are often said in English in the midst of Urdu speech. That is significant
Someone rang me up and said people in our part of the world don't have a word for 'thank you'. In fact, reference was made to Beverly Nichols, a pre-1947 British writer on Indian politics. He is supposed to have said that Muslims make do with the word 'sugar' instead.
I can't think that Nichols made such an unlearned comment. When we say shukriya we are not referring to sugar. We are reaching out to an Arabic word which has a wonderful etymological history. I always thought we had problems with 'sorry' instead.
My book says the British did not say 'thank you' till the 15th century. What did they say before that? Probably they kicked you if you did a good turn to them. 'Thank you' is a marker of civilisation. If you ask a political scientist or an economist, he will say it marks the beginning of a 'trust-based society'.
Thank is just another version of think. It means 'you got me thinking' (well of you). It could mean it is good you thought of me, from where we have thoughtfulness in the meaning of a favour.
Grace (mercy) is at the back of the expression used in the Romance languages. The French will say merci and the Spanish gracias. The Russians say spasiba which is a translation of grace. 'You have had mercy on me'. Is it a battlefield word?
(Before the Iranians took up Arabic shukr, they had the word spas which is close to Russian spasiba, but that may be pure accident. This was pointed out to me by an Afghan friend of mine in Moscow many years ago.)
Shukriya comes from the Arabic root 'shkr' which means the filling of the udders of a goat with milk. In short, it means to get filled up (with good feelings). In the Quran, this word is used at very important junctures. Anybody whose efforts bring about positive and 'full' results is shakoor.
In fact, one attribute of Allah is Shakoor. It is an exaggerated form of shakir which also means someone who is filled with gratitude. Once something is full it exposes itself and cannot be concealed. In our word ashkar we mean exactly that and its opposite is kufr which means to hide.
It is more or less certain that human beings started saying 'thank you' and 'sorry' as a habit only after the establishment of a trust society. And that happened after a warrior race became a trading community.
What did we say in India before shukriya came along? The word in Hindi today is dhannewad. Here dhann should mean praise and that is what my Turner says. But dhann goes deeper than that as a word.
You praise someone in gratitude. But originally you learnt to praise someone who was rich. That was indeed realistic. Dhann means wealth today but that is not the first meaning of the word. Dhann began by meaning cattle.
Dhann means cattle and cattle must have been the first measure of wealth. (English word pecuniary indicating money comes from Latin pecu meaning cattle. Interestingly pecu is close to Punjabi-Hindi pasu!)
But don't underestimate Urdu in its cultivation of courtesy. It is actually a language of the courtiers. We say meherbani and inayat and zarra nawazi (you are honouring a mere speck) and many more cleverly-coined words to express gratitude. Who said we didn't have a word for 'thank you'! *
But to me word *Nawazi* means hospitality ... Just like you would use for Mehmaan Nawazi ....