When Good Words Go Bad.

Please, or more accurately, “peas,” was one of the first words both my children learned to say. I remember being at Sam’s Club one day picking up a case of diapers and a 20lb tub of mayo (as one does when at Sam’s Club), when my little sweet thirteen month old boy pointed at the white-haired lady grilling up samples of TastyMex Chipotle Burrito Rolls and said in his little baby voice, “Peas?” The white-haired lady smiled, clearly impressed, and gave me an approving nod. “What a polite little gentleman you have there!” she said. It was, and continues to be, my crowning achievement as a mother.

Ten years later, I’m happy to report that my children continue to use the word please on a regular basis. Most of the time, this is a good thing. But sometimes it is not.  Sometimes this otherwise wonderful word can go rogue. And when it does, it usually means someone is getting “a consequence” and someone else is getting a headache.

Thank You, Please’s alter-ego, also suffers from this tendency to stray from the straight and narrow. In the overwhelming majority of the time, it is a lovely expression of gratitude. But there are times when Thank You, along with Please, throw on their black leather jackets, pile on the heavy eyeliner, spike up their hair and strut around throwing themselves in everyone’s face. The effect can be a little unsettling the first time you hear your child employ one of these rebel words. But, fear not. I have translated the insurgent Please and Thank Yous most often abused by kids and outlined their definitions and common usages below. Use it well.

  • Please: The traditional usage. Otherwise known as “the magic word.” Straight forward. Nice, polite, always appreciated.
  • Pleeease?: Often used when a parent is wavering on the fence of some major decision like allowing a sleepover or abandoning the leftover meatloaf for a trip to Pizza Planet. Not an out-and-out whine, but heading that direction. Frequently accompanied by jumping up and down, big, cheesy grins, and gratuitous showers of affection should the request be granted.
  • Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease: This is the sinking-ship of please’s. An odious, whining sound, and almost always a last-ditch effort on the part of the child to extort candy, a toy in the check out lane, or a third cookie. This please is often repeated, increasing in duration and frequency, until the user is led away (often kicking and screaming) from whatever captivating object has evoked its usage. Appears often with tears, stomping of the feet, and the instantaneous conversion to “boneless.”
  •  PLEASE!!!: This is when the meaning changes from a politely asked question to menacing statement implying, “Do it or else.” This is the bully of please’s. The aggressive please. The threatening please. Rarely should a request be granted if accompanied by this please.
  • Please. (Note: this please is used in conjunction with an eye roll and/or a “talk to the hand” gesture.): This is insolence, plain and simple. This one word phrase comes into play usually in late tween-hood, or the early teenage years, and continues to be a staple word for years to come. It can mean anything from, “Are you kidding me?” to “I wouldn’t be caught dead in last year’s jeans.” It is best to squash usage of this word as soon as it begins, as it tends to grow in a vocabulary like a sarcastic little weed, strangling the life out of the other more vibrant and agreeable pleases.


  • Thank you: Traditional usage is polite, multi-purpose, often replaced with the less formal version, ‘Thanks.’ Cannot be overused by the young; always well-received.
  • Thank you?: Asked rather than declared. This is the thank you of the shy and self-conscious young child. Usually said without looking the person in the eye and shifting nervously from foot to foot. Still acceptable, but only for ages 3 – 6.
  • THANK you: Bordering on surly. Largely used after a child has been reminded that they haven’t yet properly conveyed their gratitude. Also used when what the child really wants to say is that they are not at all appreciative and wish you would just leave them alone. In my house, this thank you is always sent away – often to its room – until another, more polite thank you can make an appearance.
  • Thankyouverymuch.: This is the aging spinster aunt, the miserly neighbor, the bitter lunch lady of thank yous. Always sarcastic. Often used by the cynical, the resentful, and those who are just about to be grounded. Oh, and Elvis. But he was an exception. He made it work.

One Comment on “When Good Words Go Bad.”

  1. “Please thank you” : English is not their native language, but they are aware these words are some form of social lubricant, and would rather overgrease than undergrease.

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