How to write a superbissimo thank you note for a mirific, magnanimous gift

The holidays recede, the new year rises, and the gifts you received cry out for thanks. For the givers who deserve something more than a simple “thank you," there are more expressive words of gratitude.

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Sergeant Major Mana Jokkogsung holds up thank you cards from families of some of the 40 babies he has helped to deliver in the past 9 years as part of Bangkok, Thailand's police "midwife unit." He was photographed in January 2009.

The holidays recede, the new year rises, and the gifts you received cry out for thanks. Do the givers deserve something more than a simple “thank you”?

What if they’ve braved a stampede of shoppers or scorched their eyeballs online searching for your ideal gift? Or unearthed the very thing you’ve desired by listening to you, understanding you, researching the choices? Or spent beyond their means or thought of you over the miles?

For such energetic and devoted giving, recipients may want to reach for more expressive words of gratitude – words beyond those of the generic printed card, e-card, numbly texted “tnx,” or such hand-scrawled standbys as “Many thanks”; “Thanks a million”; and “I really loved it.”

Not that these stock expressions are necessarily unwelcome. They at least acknowledge receipt, making them somewhat more gratifying than the silence of ingrates who can’t be bothered, or of gift-haters, busy bees, and the chronically forgetful.

And before I myself forget – here’s an avalanche of thanks to my late mother, who, from the day I could write sentences, taught me how the lavish thank-you note could be its own way of giving, with attendant pleasures; how it could make the givers happy, make them feel they’d done something special; reassure them that it’s as good to give (especially to me) as to receive.

For anyone developing or honing writing skills, even as an adult, the gracious thank-you note is a perfect exercise. And the notes I composed as a child in the post-holiday quiet were in many ways the beginning of a long writing career, an early confrontation with the challenges of rhetoric: clarity, force, grace, embellishment, balance, and so on.

A thank-you had to be pegged to a specific audience, reference the particulars of a gift, describe feelings, and have the appropriate tone and heft – not too uncaringly brief and not (as my mother’s expressions of gratitude tended to be) a thanking-to-death.

What, then, are some of the means for upgrading a thank you, short of mastering an all-purpose command of epistolary eloquence? Here are a few suggestions for consideration as you lay open your blank card (or screen) to write the giver of that necklace, Kindle, sweater, iPad, chunk of change, or charitable account.

In general, dare to describe your feelings in powerful terms, even if they seem outside your usual idiom. But use such terms sparingly; one goes a long way. If the message begins to sound insincere, take the diction down a notch or simply say you mean every word.

Acclaim the gift. Generic praise is unconvincing. Shun words like “great,” “awesome,” and “amazing.” Reach for fresher, more distinguishing superlatives such as stellar, bravura, consummate, magisterial, bedazzling, beguiling, pitch-perfect.

Depending on your relationship with the giver, playful terms might also be appropriate – raveworthy, legend, bone-brilliant, superbissimo – as well as a dash of slang for your homies: rightful, trig, shibby.

Acclaim the gesture. Was it not gladdening, gladsome, bighearted, kindly, jubilating, considerate, cheering, spirit-buoying, heart-juddering, exalting, regaling, magnanimous, sensitive, observant, or compassionate? Be generous yourself in your appraisal; it will bring good karma.

Acclaim the giver. Go amusingly over the top if you like. It isn’t self-serving flattery; you’ve already scored the present. Let the giver enjoy being anointed as enshrinable, selfless, peerless, prized, mirific (wonder-working), incomparable, venerated, sterling, legendary, luminous; a national resource, a do-right citizen, the numba-one head of the situation.

Trumpet your emotional response to the gift. Not tritely “blown-away,” but cock-a-hooped, transported, ecstasiated, endorphined, mind-marmalized (turned to marmalade), enthralled, dumbstruck, body-slammed, electrified, staggered, buzzed, jacked, cranked.

Put the giving in a positive context. Almost every time Vincent van Gogh thanked his brother for the gift of another 50 or 100 francs, he spoke of the remarkable work it would enable, often sending a sketch with his letter.

You can add a pleasing dimension to your thanks by offering a small scenario involving you and the gift. As a youngster receiving a present of money, I would crow about the baseball mitt it would help buy, or the cool penny loafers, or my far-off college education. I didn’t have the words then to elevate my thanks above the ordinary, but I could lay on some of the schmaltz practiced in my household.

Expressive thanks felt good, did good, and made my world a happier place, just as they do for me in today’s harried world and can do for anyone. 

Arthur Plotnik writes on expressiveness. His latest book is “Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives.” His “Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words,” revised and expanded, will appear in summer 2012.

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