“Thank you for your patience” – Meaning and Origin

When you’re in a restaurant, and you’ve been waiting a while for your food, when it does finally arrive, your waiter will likely say one of two phrases, either “sorry for the wait”or “thank you for your patience”. 

And it’s the latter phrase that I want to focus on in this article.

In this article, we’ll be looking at why “thank you for your patience” is so effective, what it means, and what it really means.

What does it mean?

When you say “Thank you for your patience”, you state your gratitude for the patience that somebody else has shown you.

Perhaps you’ve arrived late to a meeting, or maybe technology is slowing you down for the meeting. It’s commonly heard in the customer services industry.

Saying this phrase shows that you understand that making people wait was not the best thing to do, and you want to show that you’re thankful for their lack of complaining.

What it really means

However, let’s be honest for a minute here.

Most of the time when we say it we don’t really mean it. We just want the person we’re telling it to to believe we do.

I’m sure that you aren’t actually grateful to your colleagues who have been rolling their eyes throughout your entire presentation.

Your waiter isn’t actually grateful that you sat on your butt whilst he tried to keep everyone happy.

When we say “thank you for your patience” what we mean is “Please don’t get angry and make a scene”.

The interesting thing about this phrase is that most of time we want the listener to think it means something different to what we actually mean.

The Issue with “Sorry”

One thing I feel it’s important to address is why it’s so much better than the classic “Sorry for the wait”.

The human brain is a fascinating but easy to manipulate thing.

When we apologise for something, we tell the world that we have done something wrong. By saying “sorry” you’re convincing people you are at fault.

Most people will subconsciously think “Yeah, he’s right. He has done something wrong”.

However, by turning it from a negative about yourself, into a positive about them, you’re telling them that they have done something good, without implying that you’ve done something bad.

The Issue with “Thank You for your patience”

However, the over use of “thank you for your patience” has caused it to develop a problem.

It sounds fake and artificial, perhaps even a little rude. Whenever you hear it, it almost sounds like somebody is reading from a script, and they don’t actually mean it.

When you read the title of this article, I dare say that you read it in a robotic voice, perhaps even that of the “please mind the gap” man when a train is delayed, or a government announcement talking about Covid-19, or a waiter who probably couldn’t care less if you drop dead the second you step out of the restaurant.

There’s a way around this though. Whenever you use this phrase, make sure you use the slang that you would usually use.

Instead of “Thank you” try using “thanks” or even “cheers”.

Make it personal by saying “You’ve been so patient. Thanks”.

If you have any local slang that means either “thank you” or “patience” use it.

Wouldn’t this risk making the sentence grammatically incorrect? That’s very unlikely, as changing the ordering of sentences or abbreviation won’t make them grammatically incorrect.

Origin

The word patience has a pretty cool history.

It actually comes from the Latin word “pati” which literally translates to suffer.

Yes, that’s right, the word patience originates from the Latin word for suffer.

When you think about, this actually makes perfect sense. When you have to wait a long time for something, you can feel as if you’re suffering. Being patient involves an amount of suffering.

Gratitude is better than apology

Earlier in the article, we touched on why apologising can be a negative. But if apologising is so bad, what makes gratitude so much better?

When you’re being grateful to someone, you’re not making out like you’re the villain.

By telling someone “thanks for your patience” you’re giving them a compliment. That compliment is that they’re a person who has great self control and thinks about the feelings of others.

Turning others into a hero is a much better tactic than turning yourself into a villain.

Manners

Manners are a vital part of a civilised society. Whilst different societies have different ideas of what qualifies as ‘good manners’, everyone agrees that everyone should be following the rules of good manners.

Manners are there to make sure we’re all looking out for one another, and trying not to upset or annoy them.

If everyone only ever thought about themselves, our society probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as it has today.

By thinking about others, we’re making our society a better place for everyone, including ourselves.

What tense is it in?

The tense that “thank you for your patience” is written in has been tarnished by abbreviation. It sounds like past simple but it’s actually present continuous.

Present simple is the tense we use for sentences that happen at regular, repeating times. For example “I eat cornflakes for breakfast”. You’re not talking about what you’re doing now, you’re talking about what you do in general.

But when you thank someone, you’re not thanking them regularly, you’re thanking them for what they’re doing right now. The sentence ought to be “I am thanking you for your patience”.

Yes, however, because it’s commonly used, and accepted by society, it’s grammatically correct even if it is technically grammatically incorrect.

Conclusion

“Thank you for your patience” is a grammatically incorrect sentence that has become grammatically correct through it’s popularity.

Whist technically it means “I am thanking you for being patient” what it really means is “I don’t have to be told off”.

Thanking somebody for being patient is a better option than apologising for taking so long. You’re giving them a compliment, and not yourself an insult. This will trick them into thinking highly of themselves instead of thinking poorly of you. Whilst it’s overuse has caused it to sound artificial, this can be sorted by using slang terminology or personal/local colloquialisms.