M. Lynne Murphy, an American-educated linguist living in England, writes the blog “Separated by a Common Language.” She annually seeks two words of the year, the best British borrowing from American English and the best American borrowing from the mother country. The verdict is not yet in for the crossovers for 2009; “staycation” seems an early favorite, despite slightly different meanings in America and in the U.K.
Seeing this inspired me to share my favorite Britishism, practically unknown in America: “Ta.” Not “ta” as in “ta ta,” meaning “so long.” “Ta” as in a quick and informal way of saying “thank you.”
Most sources suggest “ta” is from a young child’s way of saying thank you, dating from the 18th century. It doesn’t seem to me to be a likely mimic — neither of the sounds in “ta” (tah) are found in “thank you.” But whatever the origin, the word appears to be common in English casual speech. Online sources say it is heard in the Midlands and parts of London, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.
While I’m not usually big on slang shortenings, “ta” wins me over with charm and simplicity. I wouldn’t suggest introducing a word that duplicates the perfectly useful “thank you” or “thanks” just based on charm and simplicity, however. “Ta” also has utility.
It is a quarter as long as “thank you” and a third as long as “thanks,” making it an obvious choice for Twitter, where messages are limited to 140 characters. It is greatly superior to the common “THX” or “TY,” and it often substitutes nicely for “h/t” for “hat tip.” Electronic communication is rife with abbreviations that require translation. “Ta” is self-contained.
I do not nominate “ta” as Lynne Murphy’s crossover word for 2009. While I was aware of the word from English relatives, I only heard it commonly used during a trip to England several years ago and in one or two movies in which Hugh Grant played a leading role. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard it used in the United States except by friends trying to humor me.
I do think it’s time to start the campaign for Murphy’s BrE borrowing for 2010. I have been using “ta” on Twitter, with the likely effect people shrugging it off rather than checking the dictionary. No matter. I’ll keep using it in hopes that it catches on. If you say it to me, I certainly will reply “you’re welcome.”