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.”



7 thoughts on “Ta

  1. Thanks for the mention/link, Mark! One thing you might not have discovered about ‘ta’ is that a lot of English people HATE it! At my child’s (AmE) daycare/(BrE) nursery, some of the English parents despair that the (BrE) nursery nurses teach our children to say ‘ta’!

  2. That’s good to know, Lynne. I wonder if British English speakers will embrace it on Twitter or actively campaign against it. It was not a word I heard growing up with my English-immigrant parents.

    By the way, since I wrote this blog entry, Lynne has indeed declared “staycation” the American English to British English crossover of 2009. The BrE to AmE crossover is “gone missing.” You can read all about it here: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/search/label/WotY.

    And if the topic of language and North Atlantic crossovers interests you, you should follow the cleverly named @lynneguist on Twitter.

    A final note: I did a search of an online transcription of the Hugh Grant movie “Notting Hill,” where I was sure I would find “ta,” but I came up empty. The word was frequently used in “The Full Monty,” including a construction I will never use: “Ta very much.”

  3. Thought I’d offer my two pennies worth as a Brit…
    I say ta as an informal thanks quite often… but people often try to teach kids it as a starting point as they begin to learn language as its easy for them to say. Once they can talk, if they use it as the only way of saying thank you, then I agree one should begin to despair.

    Its a rather warm and friendly way of thanking someone and to my mind is pretty harmless. So I say don’t look down on it, just use it wisely. 🙂

  4. As an Australian, when I was living in France, I’d say Ta all the time. My English friends all understood it as a childish version of Thank you but thought it was a little unusual to use day to day. I know it would seem weird if you insisted on calling a cow a moo-cow, or always referred to a baby as a bubba, but I couldn’t shake using ‘ta’ all the time. I got sick of saying ‘merci’ and with no shorter version, i’d just say ‘ta’ if someone held open a door for me. Doubt the french understood me. An american friend loved it, but kept trying to find an equivalent for ‘you’re welcome’. But ta’s casual enough not to need a reply! I also like ‘ta muchly’. I guess it’s used as a somewhat ironic formality. I’d say it casually if somebody did a bunch of photocopying for me, or lent me a book – something which needs more than a ta, but less than thank you very much.

    Irritatingly ‘cheers’ has started overtaking ‘ta’ unintentionally in my vocabulary.

  5. Not apropos of “ta” but apropos of terms for “thanks,” I was always puzzled why British colleagues would end their email messages with a toast to my health. Then I finally got off my duff and looked up “cheers” in the dictionary. Somehow, its use as “thank you” had escaped me for years. But despite Merriam-Webster’s not calling out the term as “chiefly British,” I’ve never heard an American say “cheers” when, say, a server places a dish of pasta in front of him or her or someone holds the door for another. Do Brits say “cheers” in these sorts of situations?

  6. I don’t have an answer, Patty, so I’ll hope someone else does. In the meantime, I found this in a New York Times article from 2012:

    “I’m getting sick of my investment banking clients saying ‘cheers’ to me,” said Euan Rellie, a socially prominent British-born finance executive in New York. “Americans say ‘cheers’ like Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins,’ with too much enthusiasm. It must be delivered laconically.”

    I can’t say whether that viewpoint is restricted to the socially prominent.

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