If you’re a generous person, you may have been saying you’re welcome a lot recently, to all those you’ve given gifts to. What do we mean when we say you’re welcome? It’s almost an afterthought: the most important information being conveyed in this part of the conversation is the thank you. Saying you’re welcome is really just wrapping a bow on the thanks, acknowledging the grateful receipt of it. When you think about the actual meaning of the words, they make the most sense if you consider someone thanking you for giving them something. What you’re saying then is that they’re welcome to whatever it is you gave to them, even if it’s something intangible like help. Even so, it still feels a bit redundant, because surely that could be taken for granted: you wouldn’t have given it to them if they weren’t welcome to it.
I suppose it’s just another example of the politeness of the English language. Rather than finishing the conversation abruptly with thank you, we have to add an extra little pleasantry to the end. Only it doesn’t really work, because it just postpones the abruptness. What else is there to say or do after you’re welcome, but to change topic?
I don’t mean to complain about you’re welcome, as I understand why people don’t want to just finish on thank you. I’m just lamenting that it doesn’t really do much to improve things. Still, it’s always handy to sarcastically call it out for those occasions when you hold the door open for someone and they don’t say thank you. Or even worse, when there’s a queue of people leaving somewhere, each holding the door briefly for the person behind them, and then when you hold the door, the person behind you doesn’t hold it and walks on through, leaving to either hold the door for the person behind them, or let it slam back on them. Or when you step aside to let someone leave a building before you go in, and someone behind you walks on inside while you’re holding the door. Those people deserve a fate far worse than a sarcastic you’re welcome.