Friday, July 25, 2014


Lots of little one offs today.  Eh, no problem.  It's only a blog.

I'm receiving many sounds of praise, as people tell me 'congratulations!'  They mean well and the sentiment is much appreciated . . . and yet, because I understand words, I cannot help but cringe.

Congratulations has become the standard thing that we say when something good happens to someone. The increasing popularity of the word has been notable in my lifetime - people are more apt to say it today upon hearing good news than they were in the past.  As I'm not pedantic, and as I know words grow and achieve meanings they did not formerly possess, I am fine with that.  My resistance against the word has much more to do with me than the word's users - and so it is my problem and not theirs.

The word 'congratulation' appears in English in the mid 15th century; it is an import from Latin, from the verb congratulatio, which is to "give thanks" or "show joy."  So far so good.  However, the root for the Latin word is gratus, which is a "blessing," and it is here that the problem begins.  We get 'grace' from gratus, this being a gift from the gods, something that is dropped on us by chance or by the vicissitudes of fortune.

In other words, a good thing that originates in a place other than within ourselves.

We say "congratulations" when someone has a baby because it is something that is tried for - but understood to be something of a chance thing.  We "hope" for a baby but we realize that what with physical limitations, fertility, the possibility of poor health and so on, we may not get what we want.  So if things come around and you find you are pregnant, we say "congratulations" because you passed the first hurdle.  Then we say congratulations again when the baby is born, because you've passed other hurdles.

In writing a book, however, there are no mysteries, no doubts, no bestowing of luck by the grace of the gods.  At best, there might be something to be said for "You may die before the book is finished," but somehow when someone tells me 'congratulations' upon finishing my book, I don't think they're saying, "You lived!  I never thought you would!"

No, they're saying, "Well done!"  And they mean it.  They know I've worked and struggled and put in the hours and finished the thing on my own, and that the gods had nothing to do with it. They don't have to be told.

It's only that, when faced with someone who has recently done what I've done - and a host of other, similar things, they don't know what to say.  They do have this word, however, which we know well enough to say in times of great joy.  We say it at weddings and when you get the job you wanted and when you win best prize in a beauty contest.  It is the first word that pops into our heads.

Yet I can't quite get used to it.  I wasn't blessed.  The book didn't appear from out of the blue.  No others made a decision that enabled the book's existence.  Luck was not involved.  The appearance of the book was not, in any way, a surprise.  So saying 'congratulations' seems, somehow, awkward.

I'd rather people just said, "Well done."  Yes, there are two words, but there are less letters.  There are less syllables.  The words are clear and direct and most of all, accurate.  I applied myself and did it well.

I know that's what people are saying.  Thank you.


Barrow said...

Well done, with the book, Alexis.

Wade McKenzie said...

Mr. Smolensk:

I'm a little busy right now and don't have time to read the original post--I'll be sure to get to it later--but I think congratulations are in order on the publication of your new book and I wanted to be sure to offer mine.

So, congratulations on the completion of this project! You were very fortunate to see the book to publication and I'm just glad there was grace for it in the grand design of providence.

I give God the thanks that he worked through you to produce this book.

May God continue to bless you with further projects--and, again, congrats!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Wade, I believe the word is 'droll.'

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Well done indeed, Alexis. And let me say: it is your work on D&D that makes me respect you, but it is posts like these that make me *like* you.