Sunday, 15 August 2004

Ta ever so

The Shorter OED just describes it as an infantile word expressing thanks, first noted in print in 1772, but Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang explains rather laboriously that ta arises from “a young child’s difficulty with th and nks”.

But hang on a minute. A quick check of that excellent web page which tells you how to say “thank you” in 465 languages reveals that when Alabamu people wish to express gratitude informally they say “”. This can hardly have developed as a contraction of any of their proper words for thank you, which are kanobi, aliîmoolo, kanoomolo and kanopalammoolo. So is it just a coincidence that we have a common word, or did some English toddler living among the Alabamu introduce it to them?

For the benefit of younger readers I should note here that the Alabamu people live in the United States, to one of which they have given their name. My generation needs no reminding, as we have affectionate memories of Phil Harris:
Won’t ya come with me to Alabamu
Let’s go see mah dear old Mammu
She’s fryin’ eggs and broilin’ hammu
N’that’s what ah lahk ‘bout the South.

Incidentally, in the 465-language list, ta is also given as the Australian word for thank you, with no mention of informality or infants. I have no comment to make on this, except to say that Australians have an alternative: in Warlpiri, spoken by 3,000 Yendumu people in the centre of the country, you can say how grateful you are with a cheery wiyarrparlunpaju-yungu!

And I shall try to encourage my Californian friends, at least those who have time for such niceties, to use a local language, Karuk (or Karok) when they say thank you. Yo-twa! sounds very Californian to me.

You can also find 270 pleases, 800 hellos and similar pages for other phrases; even if you have never felt the need to say good morning in Azerbaijani (Sabahiniz xeyir), this website is worth a visit. No wonder it has had well over half a million hits.

1 comment:

Rethabile said...

In Lesotho saying "ta" for "thank you" is common, or was. In Sesotho it's "tanki," a corruption of the Afrikaans "dankie." Is our "ta" short for "tanki?" I doubt it but can't back that up since I am only following my instinct. Cheers.