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A thoughtful gift or action
Posted: 04 May 2019 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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An e-acquaintance of mine mentioned reading an advice column in which was a letter complaining that whereas the writer every year sent ‘expensive, thoughtful’ Christmas presents to a relative, he didn’t seem to appreciate them at all and his Christmas presents to her were always cheap gag items in dubious taste such as a whoopee cushion, and what should she do about this?

Apart from this being an obviously silly question, it seems to me a contradiction in terms to say that one gives “thoughtful” presents, or makes “thoughtful” gestures, that aren’t appreciated. To me, calling a gift or action ‘thoughtful’ in this context implies a element of insight: that someone has not merely thought about what the other person might want or need, but has got it right.  It doesn’t matter how long or hard I think about what my mother-in-law might like for Christmas or what gesture might cheer up a bereaved friend; if my thinking fails to lead me to the right answer, I don’t think ‘thoughtful’ accurately describes my gifts or my gesture. But my e-acquaintance disagrees and says that ’as long as thought was put into it, and you had the best intentions, than yes, it’s thoughtful.‘ What do people here think?

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Posted: 04 May 2019 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m on your side. I’ve always thought “thoughful” meant some amount of thought was put into something aimed at creating a good outcome. If the outcome does not create the outcome I wanted, my effort wasn’t thoughtful enough. Yet, it is the thought that counts, right?

Now I’m confussed.

[ Edited: 04 May 2019 11:24 AM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 04 May 2019 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It’s a question of perspective.

If you’re giving the present, thoughtful means that you carefully considered what present might be most appreciated. Whether or not the gift is actually appreciated doesn’t matter, it is still thoughtful.

If you’re receiving the present, thoughtful means that the gift is appreciated. How much consideration the giver gave the choice doesn’t matter.

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Posted: 04 May 2019 11:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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TBH, Dave, I wouldn’t use thoughtful in that way from either perspective. And when a third party says, ‘That was a really thoughtful [thing that X did for / present that X gave to] Y’, surely there is always an implication that the action or present was not only kind but well-judged. If the third party doesn’t think that it was, they are more likely to say some such thing as ‘It was kindly meant’, or even ‘Well, it’s the thought that counts’, which as we all know means that the thought involved wasn’t insightful enough.

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Posted: 05 May 2019 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree with Dave. If the gift is presented in a thoughtful manner, ( out of kindness and consideration) then it’s a thoughtful gift. If it’s just given out of a feeling of obligation or expecting some kind of remuneration then it’s not at all a thoughtful gift.

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Posted: 05 May 2019 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If it’s just given out of a feeling of obligation or expecting some kind of remuneration then it’s not at all a thoughtful gift.

I did not say that. Obligation or expected remuneration are reasons for giving the gift that have no relation to whether or not the giver gave thought as whether the gift would be wanted and appreciated.

All my Christmas gifts are given out of a sense of obligation. If I had my way, the whole holiday gift tradition would go away. (Except gifts for children.) But that doesn’t mean that I don’t put a lot of thought into choosing appropriate gifts.

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Posted: 05 May 2019 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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All my Christmas gifts are given out of a sense of obligation. If I had my way, the whole holiday gift tradition would go away. (Except gifts for children.) But that doesn’t mean that I don’t put a lot of thought into choosing appropriate gifts.

But that is not sincere thoughtfulness because it is a thought brought about by obligation. A truly thoughtful gift is brought about by a sentiment of giving and generosity. An altruistic act without any sense of obligation or even recognition.  When I give a gift to a girl friend, such as flowers, chocolates or a book, I do it spontaneously without feeling obligated or expecting any kind of reward. It’s the thought that would make her happy and appreciative. Conversely, if I gave her a gift on her birthday, it would be expected and the gift might please her, but not necessarily the thought, unless the gift was something that she always wanted, then it would be thoughtful that I remembered and found it for her.

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Posted: 06 May 2019 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I think what was missed was Logophile’s JUST in “If it was just given ...” Certainly if it was chosen with some thought it is thoughtful but if the only thought behind it was “I gotta give this gift” it hardly counts as thoughtful.

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Posted: 07 May 2019 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Certainly if it was chosen with some thought it was thoughtful

And that’s where I beg to differ. No matter how much sincere thought went into choosing it, if it didn’t gladden the recipient’s heart, or make their life easier or pleasanter, I wouldn’t describe it as thoughtful. ‘Generous’, ‘kind’, ‘well-meant’, et cetera: but to me ‘ a thoughtful gift that the recipient didn’t like’ is a contradiction in terms.

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Posted: 07 May 2019 11:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 07 May 2019 10:49 AM


And that’s where I beg to differ. No matter how much sincere thought went into choosing it, if it didn’t gladden the recipient’s heart, or make their life easier or pleasanter, I wouldn’t describe it as thoughtful. ‘Generous’, ‘kind’, ‘well-meant’, et cetera: but to me ‘ a thoughtful gift that the recipient didn’t like’ is a contradiction in terms.

That is quite a false analogy.  It is the thought that counts not the recipient’s feelings. The recipient is not associated with the thought.  The thought is only related to the giver.

However, if there is no thought behind the gift, e.g., if a man presents a woman with a dozen roses, but is fully aware that she is allergic to those specific flowers.  But if he had no knowledge of her allergy that would undoubtedly not eliminate the fact that it was thoughtful. 

Furthermore, and more significantly, an honorable person is more grateful and enchanted by the thought than by the actual gift. 

https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/1-the_gift_of_the_magi_0.pdf

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Posted: 08 May 2019 12:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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That is quite a false analogy.


It’s not any kind of analogy! It’s a statement of fact: I’m telling you how I understand the word, how I have always used the word, and how the people I know and the authors I read use the word, and that for the meaning you and Dave ascribe to it, I would use other terms.

You may use the word thoughtful differently; but it’s pure etymological fallacy to state that it must mean ‘the product of thought, irrespective of appropriateness’, and rank prescriptivism to say that I, Eyehawk and any number of people are wrong for using it as we do.

The whole subject of whether presents are given out of obligation or spontaneously, and how much gratitude is due, is completely irrelevant.

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Posted: 08 May 2019 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Maybe it should be determined which side of the giving one is on. If the receiver of the gift is dissatisfied and acts in a way that shows it, it obviously was not thoughtful in that person’s mind. I would say the receiver should not expect much next year.

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Posted: 08 May 2019 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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It’s not any kind of analogy! It’s a statement of fact:

I think it’s a matter of opinion and not of fact.  The analogy relates to your misguided concept of the word thoughtful, which is an independent process from that of the recipient. It is either thoughtful or it is not; I have already submitted examples for the exceptions. 

I’m telling you how I understand the word, how I have always used the word, and how the people I know and the authors I read use the word, and that for the meaning you and Dave ascribe to it, I would use other terms.

It is your interpretation of the word; but it does not make it factual. 

You may use the word thoughtful differently; but it’s pure etymological fallacy to state that it must mean ‘the product of thought, irrespective of appropriateness’, and rank prescriptivism to say that I, Eyehawk and any number of people are wrong for using it as we do.

I have no idea where you are going with that. What is the etymological fallacy? The etymology of the word is specifically related to thinking. I do not understand how one could construe it any other way.

https://grammarist.com/proverb/its-the-thought-that-counts/

It’s the thought that counts means that the important part of a gift is the effort, consideration and sacrifice that is put into it. Whether or not the gift-giver has chosen a present that the recipient truly wants or can actually use is of little consequence. The fact that the gift-giver thought hard about what he thought the recipient would want, went to the trouble and expense of procuring it, and finally gave it to the recipient, shows a level of respect and caring that is intrinsically valuable. In practice, the phrase it’s the thought that counts is uttered for two reasons. One reason is that the recipient truly appreciates the effort, consideration and sacrifice that went into procuring the gift. The second reason is that the gift was a terrible disappointment, such as an article of clothing that doesn’t fit, a food that one is allergic to, or an item that arrives broken. It’s the thought that counts is a sentiment that parents impress upon their children when presents do not live up to their expectations. The proverb is credited to Henry van Dyke Jr., a professor at Princeton University, an ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg, a Presbyterian clergyman who chaired the committee that printed The Book of Common Worship of 1906, the first printed Presbyterian liturgy, and was a friend to Helen Keller, as well as the officiant at Mark Twain’s funeral. Also a writer and poet, van Dyke coined the aphorism: “It is not the gift, but the thought that counts.” Van Dyke lived from 1852 to 1933. Note that as with many proverbs and idioms, only the latter half of the phrase is generally quoted, the listener is expected to supply the beginning of the proverb for himself.

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Posted: 08 May 2019 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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What is the etymological fallacy?

The etymological fallacy is the belief that a word’s origin governs its meaning. Meaning is determined by how it is used, not by it’s origin. (The origin certainly is a major factor in how the word is first used after it enters the language, but it is not determinative, especially regarding later usage.

To say that thoughtful must refer to thinking because that’s the word’s origin is a classic example of the fallacy.

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Posted: 08 May 2019 02:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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The meaning of “thoughtful gift” has never, in my experience, been dependent upon the opinion of the receiver. If the giver of the gift has seriously given thought to it, then it is a thoughtful gift. If the recipient is a spoiled brat the fault does not lie with the giver.

I have sometimes received gifts that were occasionally even comical to my mind, but the person giving it was sincere, and had gone to some expense and effort. That was a real thoughtful gift. I have enough civility to recognize that and accept the gift as it was intended. It would take a cruel person to say or think that the gift was not up to expectations, and therefor not thoughtful.

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Posted: 09 May 2019 12:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dave Wilton - 08 May 2019 01:35 PM

What is the etymological fallacy?

The etymological fallacy is the belief that a word’s origin governs its meaning. Meaning is determined by how it is used, not by it’s origin. (The origin certainly is a major factor in how the word is first used after it enters the language, but it is not determinative, especially regarding later usage.

To say that thoughtful must refer to thinking because that’s the word’s origin is a classic example of the fallacy.

Thank you Dave for the information, of which I already had knowledge. I was not asking, what is an etymological fallacy, I asked, what is the etymological fallacy, referring to the word thoughtful. My question, which was perhaps misleading or improperly worded, was referring specifically to the use of thoughtful, as it is defined today, as being an etymological fallacy. That was my poorly constructed question. I understand that the word’s meaning is its current use, but it just so happens that the current meaning is also its original meaning. Its usage has maintained the origin of its meaning.

Nevertheless, I never suggested that the word must refer to thinking; I only stated that the etymology of the word is specifically related to thinking. Also keep in mind S.Laulu’s OP addresses the expression thoughtful gift. I maintain that thoughtful has only one meaning; therefore, a thoughtful gift can only be defined and characterized as an act of careful thought.

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