Gratitude and Congratulations

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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Gratitude and congratulations, along with some other words with the element grat and associated with giving thanks, are related. Such words, and a couple of disguised cognates, are listed and defined in this post.

Gratitude, and the other words discussed here, derive from the Latin adjective gratus, meaning “pleasing” or “thankful.” Gratitude is the state of being thankful, and a synonym for thankful is grateful. The antonym of that word is ungrateful, but someone who withholds gratitude is an ingrate.

Gratify, though stemming from the same origin, has a different sense; it means “give pleasure or satisfaction,” and, depending on context, it can have a positive or negative connotation. For example, the noun form in “instant gratification” refers critically to an undesirable personal or cultural trait associated with seeking short-term satisfaction to the detriment of more productive habits or pursuits.

Similarly, though gratuitous originally meant simply “free,” that sense has largely been overtaken by the meanings “unearned” and “unwarranted,” as in a reference to gratuitous sex or violence in a film; the element or scene is not integral to the plot and is therefore considered exploitative. A gratuity, however, is always welcome: It is something given voluntarily. (Often, the word is simply employed as a formal alternative to tip in the context of rendering services.)

Centuries ago, when one expressed pleasure in the achievements of another, one offered gratulation. However, that form was superseded by congratulation, and now it is customary to pluralize that word. (Congrats is a slang truncation.) Unfortunately, thanks to the punning exclamation “Congradulations!” in the context of graduation from school or college, seen on greeting cards and the like, congratulations is sometimes inadvertently misspelled.

Grate, meaning “grill” or “scraper,” is unrelated, but grace, meaning “mercy,” “elegance,” and “virtue,” and the identical verb form, meaning “show favor,” are descended from gratus. Something exemplifying grace in the sense of “elegance” is graceful, while something lacking that quality is graceless. Disgrace is the loss of favor or honor, and something that brings (or should bring) shame to someone is disgraceful. Meanwhile, scapegrace, on the model of scapegoat, means “someone who falls out of favor with God.”

Another disguised descendant of gratus, by way of French, is agree, meaning “give assent or consent” or “coincide.” Something agreed on is an agreement. Something is said to be agreeable when it is acceptable, in harmony with what is desired, or pleasing, and a person with a pleasing or positive disposition is agreeable. In all cases, the antonym is represented by attaching the prefix dis-.

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1 Response to “Gratitude and Congratulations”

  • Dale A. Wood

    In German, the verb for “to congratulate” is “gratulieren”, and in German, any verb ending in “ieren” is a loanword from a foreign language, and these are all regular verbs.
    Another one is “razieren” = “to shave”.
    Could it be that during medieval and ancient times, Germans neither congratulated anyone, nor shaved? That does sound like the behavior of the Saxons, Huns, Visigoths, and Vandals, and anyone name “Barbarossa” (red beard). LOL

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