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I noticed that “I pray” is used as a response to “thank you” in many languages.

For example,

Turkish

Teşekkür ederim. (“I thank.”)

Rica ederim. (“I pray (or make a request).”)

Italian

Ti ringrazio. (“I thank you.”)

Prego. (“I pray.”)

Croatian

Hvala ti. (“Thank you.”)

Molim. (“I pray.”)

What is the origin of this and how is prayer related to telling someone that they are welcome?

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    German too. "Danke - Bitte." I suspect it's because "pray" is associated with "please", as in "Please/Pray don't mention it." Aug 16 at 18:41
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There is also French "merci" - "je vous en prie". Given that French was for a long time the language of courtly culture I would assume - until proven otherwise - that other languages have borrowed this manner of speaking from French.

As for the “how” and the “why”, I would guess:

“merci” = (I pray that God might grant you) mercy

“je vous en prie” = I pray (that he will grant) of it to you (as well).

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  • What is the word-for-word translation of "je vous en prie"? Can you also provide the singular/informal version of it, since my examples were written like that?
    – hb20007
    Aug 17 at 17:46
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    @hb20007. Yes,, you can say "je t'en prie" (familiar) Literally: I to-you of-it pray.
    – fdb
    Aug 17 at 18:02
  • Is this a common expression? I knew of "de rien", which I assume is more popular. If so, is it plausible to say that the other languages borrowed it from French?
    – hb20007
    Aug 17 at 18:08
  • @hb20007. The borrowing, or rather calquing, would have been a long time ago.
    – fdb
    Aug 17 at 19:38
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    Danish also has åh, jeg beder ‘oh, I pray’, which is very old-fashioned and falutes quite high. Aug 17 at 21:57
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I found a publication by “La Crusca per voi” where a correspondent asked the Accademia della Crusca why “prego” is used in this manner in Italian. The response to that question was written by linguist Giovanni Nencioni.

I will provide an English translation below.

The word prego after grazie is characteristic of courtesy. I would like to know how it entered into use and if it has a connection to prayer.

There is no doubt that the verb pregare [to pray] originally had, and continues to have in appropriate contexts, a religious meaning. But we need not attribute that denotation to simple human rapport as well: even mortals si pregano [are prayed to, are beseeched], and in that case the meaning of the verb, strong or weak as it may be, sheds the sacral character that characterizes the appeal to divinity. The attenuation or semantic emptying of sacred expressions is a widespread fact: when the Romans exclaimed mehercules they did not intend to invoke the deified hero Hercules, but to affirm energetically: indeed! of course!. When I extract old expressions from memory like per Giove! [by Jupiter!], per Bacco! [by Bacchus!], I express surprise, resistance, or even enthusiasm; I certainly do not call into question two mythological divinities. I remember hearing from atheists with various degrees of emotion Madonna! [Mary!] Perdio! [for God's sake], without realizing a possible contradiction. The contradiction effectively did not exist, because these expressions were reduced to simple interjections, that is, utterances of voice aimed at expressing a state of mind, therefore devoid of contextual reference. While not an exclamation, the first person form of the present indicative of the verb pregare is a courteous form of communication, and is registered as a word by itself in modern dictionaries.

In the rest of his response, Nencioni quotes the definition of the word “prego” in various dictionaries and discusses the nuances of its meaning. So, I did not translate that part.

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I believe commenter Luke Sawczak is correct. It is short for "Please, don't mention it," or perhaps something like "I pray that you will think no more of it." The speaker is requesting that the thanker not feel obligated.

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