Thanksgiving Isn't What You Thought
Revisiting thanksgiving as a dad, editor, and coach
Thank you to everyone who reached out over the past week and a half, as you’ve heard the news of the shootings at UVA. Having two sons at the University of Virginia, one of whom is on the football team, both of whom are safe, has been a welcome reminder to our family of how much we have to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving is reflexive, healthy, and commonly misunderstood.
Thanksgiving and Grammar
I live a weird life being both an editor and an executive coach. In the coaching world, gratitude has been all the rage for a few years—morning moments of gratitude, gratitude journals, listing five things that you're thankful for every day. In the editorial world, thanksgiving will be used incorrectly 95% of the times you hear it in the coming few days.
People use thanksgiving as if you can just “be thankful,” as if it is a state of being to be cultivated. The problem is that thanksgiving is a transitive gerund. A gerund is “the present participle of a verb (with its -ing ending) functioning as a noun in the sentence.”1 And a transitive (rather than intransitive) gerund must have an object.
In other words, you cannot just be thankful, you must be thankful to someone. In thanks-giving, you must be giving-thanks to someone or something. As a theological editor, I know that all thanksgiving ultimately takes God as its object—the God who is the giver of every good gift. But at a very practical level, every English speaker is presented with a grammatical dilemma at least once a year.
If you’re thankful, to whom are you thankful?
Leaders, encourage a culture of gratitude in your organization’s culture. But more than that, make sure your thanksgiving has an object.
Bryan A. Garner, The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Kindle Edition, loc. 4977 of 18710.