Humor: Evolution of ‘Thank you’


As we were leaving, I held the door open for the couple coming into the restaurant. I could tell they were pretentious because of their clothing, perfume, watches, shoes, glasses, hairdo, height, accent and eyelashes. Neither said “thank you,” though, which wouldn’t have surprised me had they been from Miami, but they looked from the Northeast.

Don’t ask me how, but I just knew it. They had an arrogant flair that comes only from certain parts of New England. Their rudeness was distinct from Miami rude, which is less haughty and more egotistical. Whereas Northerners actively ignore you, Miamians actively attend only to themselves. Whereas the former signal “you are beneath me,” the latter signal “you are beneath my augmented breasts. I can’t see you. Get out of there!”

According to evolutionary theory, people are nice to you only if they think they will ever need you, which explains why a lot of people in Miami are only nice to plastic surgeons and judges. If you fall in neither category you can forget about civility, which is why I’m considering going to law and medical school — and would be easier than instilling manners in Miami-Dade County.

I would have thought that, going into Thanksgiving, folks would be a little more courteous, a little more generous, but everybody is going crazy.

People are more dangerous than ever, especially, but not only, to turkeys.

Take George Zimmerman, the poor soul is experiencing attacks from everyone: the media, prosecutors, former girlfriends; even the NRA is after him for giving the organization a bad name. Nobody says, “Thank you George,” for leaving no more weapons in the stores. No wonder he is reacting aggressively.

Or take Richie Incognito from the Miami Dolphins. Nobody thanks him for self-disclosing a very bad case of arrested moral development. Instead of thanking George and Richard for giving newspapers what to write about, all they get is bad press.

Not to be outdone, the Republicans refuse to say thank you to President Obama for handing them the easiest exit strategy from their government-shutdown debacle. Instead of thanking him for the botched launch of, they accuse him for failing to start something they desperately want to stop.

Intrigued by the whole “thank you” thing I did some research into civility. In a highly publicized study, Dacher Keltner and his research team at UC Berkeley reported that rich people are less polite and more inconsiderate than people from low socioeconomic status. While you might be tempted to believe the findings because they come from BERKELEY, to me the whole thing sounds like a communist plot. This is yet another attempt to disparage the wealthy. After all, this study was done at BERKELEY, which, need I remind you, is a hotbed of radicalism. To be convinced I would want to have the study replicated by the Heritage Foundation.

To probe further, I did some research into the history of thank you. The first person to ever say thank you was Adam. He had to go to the toilet and asked Eve for the only leaves that up to that point were covering her private parts. He said “thank you,” and she said, “I hope the paparazzi are not around.”

The Jewish people had a conflictive relationship with “thank you.” They were all very appreciative when Moses took them out of Egypt, but complained profusely when they realized that he had taken them on a 40-year journey through the desert on a diet of water and unleavened bread.

The Romans, in turn, forced all their victims not only to surrender, but also to send Thank You cards to the Emperor for enslaving them. This tradition continues to this day. The mafia requests Hallmark Love You cards from businesses under their protection plan.

I also looked into famous thank you lines to see what I can learn from wiser people and found the following from Benjamin Disraeli: “I feel a very unusual sensation — if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”

Can you imagine being led by such a grouch? No wonder the British Empire has been in decline ever since the twice prime minister was in office in the 1800s.

The most important piece of research I found, though, was that practicing gratitude is good for you. So here it goes: I’m thankful for living in Miami, I’m thankful for having health insurance through my employer — which I can keep — and I’m thankful for the Nobel Prize committee for considering me.

Isaac Prilleltensky is dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami. Look for his humor blog at

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