“Welcome!” – You Don’t Say: Volume 57 – by Ray Hudson

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Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

There’s a two syllable word in our vocabulary. We use it many times a day, automatically, in reply to someone who says “thank you”. The word is welcome or in this context the phrase we are taught, and teach our children is ‘you’re welcome.’

We’ve been hearing it a lot lately as many people across Canada have taken the use of the word seriously in bringing less advantaged people into our national family.

So where does it come from? In the old English wil means desire or pleasure, cumin means ‘come’ and wel means well. The origin seems to be from old Norse, velkominn and old English wilcuma. Put together they mean a person whose coming is pleasing. You can certainly hear the sound of the word we use today. The adaptation from wil to wel seems to have come from the French influence which says literally bien (well) and venu (come). So we end up with ‘your arrival brings me pleasure’ or ‘it is a good thing that you have come.’ Not rocket science to make that connection.

And long before rockets, the term was found in the epic (and oldest) surviving English poem, Beowulf. It was written in the West Saxon dialect of Old English sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries by an author or authors now lost from memory. According to the Stackexchange.com, the context of its use in that poem is in describing “something acceptable, pleasurable, freely permitted or cordially invited”.

The next time it shows up in literature is in Shakespeare’s Othello as ‘Your Honour is most welcome.’ and seems to have been in common use as a response to ‘thank you’ at that time.

In French, another response to ‘thank you’ is ‘plaisir” (pleasure) or “avec pleasir (with pleasure). In Spanish the phrase is con gusto, (again, with pleasure).

So where did the phrases ‘no worries’ come into the picture pushing welcome right out? Surprisingly they do appear to be connected. It seems to have come into common use with the success of the Crocodile Dundee movies which introduced that strange and totally unfathomable dialect of English called Oz talk – the Australian accent, from ‘down under’ to ‘up over’ enhanced by the local Aussie invasion of the Whistler Ski Resort, by those sunny folk who’s passion is work and ski – or is it work to ski? But I digress.

French has a “no problem” equivalent in “pas problem” or ne rien (it’s nothing – no effort) and in Spanish, the term de nada or no problemo. So, in a long stretch, it loops back to “it’s not a problem for me to serve you”, to “it’s a pleasure to serve you”, to “you are welcome”.

I draw the line at the version that seems prevalent in some parts of the US, and that is to respond to a ‘thank you’ with the grunt, ‘uh-huh!” It is an acknowledgement, but that’s about the best you can say about it.

But back to our reality of Welcome. Yesterday I attended the event where Fruiticana boss, Tony Singh, ‘gave back’ by giving groceries to our Syrian refugees in transition. The day before I attended a forum concerned with assisting the refugees, and of course, I have watched, with everyone else, the efforts of the Canadian government to bring refugees to Canada. On a personal level, I have also come to know a newly arrived Syrian family, and can say with conviction, as so many Canadians, new and ‘old stock,’ alike – Welcome! Welcome to Canada! Welcome to the family, in the full meaning of the word, your arrival brings me (us) pleasure!