Gracias a Dios. Thank God.
End of post.
Or so you’d think, right? It’s about as clear-cut a translation as they come, but never underestimate the potential to get confused when another language is involved and your guard is down. If you’re not a humble person yet, Spanish will soon serve you a hefty slice of humble pie, just you wait. This post isn’t about humility, though, but rather gratitude. To give credit where credit is due, let me first thank un tal Stephen C who requested a post on Gracias a Dios in a comment back in November. Thanks, Stephen, for being so patient.
I’ve come across more than a few accounts online from people who wondered why their Spanish-speaking boyfriend/host mom/preacher/what have you were peppering their conversations with “Thank you! Goodbye!” left and right. Let’s take a look.
Here’s are some completely made-up examples from yours truly.
Estábamos en el desierto y el carro se había varado y no sabíamos cómo íbamos a regresar al pueblo. Pero entonces pasó un camión. ¡Gracias! ¡Adiós!
We were in the desert and our car had broken down and we didn’t know how we were going to get back to town. But, then a truck passed by. Thank you! Goodbye!
¡Gracias! ¡Adiós! Que te conocí– eres lo mejor que me ha pasado.
Thank you! Goodbye! That I met you– you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
¿Cómo les acabó de ir anoche? ¿Todo bien? Ah, sí, llegamos bien. ¡Gracias! ¡Adiós!
How’d it end up going for you guys last night? All good? Yeah, we got there fine. Thank you! Goodbye!
Wait, wait, don’t leave me, they all said. Please don’t go! Was it something I said? Do I have a piece of broccoli in my teeth? Bad breath? Tacky clothes? Whatever it is, I can change! The people never actually left, though, much to the relief of the Spanish learners, but they would then have to sit through the agony of several of these passive-aggressive false alarms threatening immediate takeoff in every conversation. What in the world was going on?
What was with all the sudden farewells mid-sentence? What were the Spanish speakers really saying? I know that all of my readers are highly intelligent and, more to the point, clever, so I know you had no trouble deciphering those strange sentences. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that:
¡Gracias! ¡Adiós! = Gracias a Dios
They weren’t saying “Thank you! Goodbye!” They were simply saying, “Thank God.” Ahh. Everything is illuminated. A tragic but hilarious mistake that is 100% understandable.
Don’t confuse these expressions. This would be especially challenging in Colombia because I heard the word adiós exactly one time for every year I lived there. But, gracias a Dios? Every day.
I feel that gracias a Dios is usually (not always) used at the end of sentences. Mi hija se mejoró, gracias a Dios. Me salió el trabajo, gracias a Dios. Mis papás siguen vivos, gracias a Dios. Used this way, it’s like saying, “Thanks be to God,” and there is a note of genuine gratitude there. At the beginning of sentences, it’s more like “I thank God that…” If you want to say “Thank God” in a more casual way, like “Thank God you called me last night– I was bored out of my mind” (used as an equivalent of “Good thing…”), a more fitting translation would probably be Menos mal. Menos mal que me llamaste anoche–estaba muerta de aburrimiento. I’ll do a separate post on Menos mal in the future.
I am not an especially God-fearing woman, but I do sprinkle this phrase into my Spanish a good amount, at least far more than I say “Thank God” in English. It just rolls off my tongue, and, as you all know, everything that rolls off my tongue in Spanish originated in my ears. That is, I say what I hear, and this is why my Spanish is so good. Factor number one: I listen. A lot. And I listen well–nothing gets past me. Factor number two: I talk. A lot. And I plagiarize what I hear without a whit of self-consciousness. Even more than a bat, Vocaparrot might be a more fitting moniker.
So, even if you’re not a very religious person, you’d still do well to slip Gracias a Dios into your speech if you’d like to sound more natural. You won’t sound like a sanctimonious holy roller by doing so, I promise. Of course, I can’t imagine that atheists would use the phrase, but just do what feels comfortable for you. It’s also a phrase that will give you pause, helping you to realize that there are a plethora of good things in your life to give thanks for that you did not bring about. Whether you’re going to thank a higher being or your family or your friends or the kindhearted strangers that come into your path every day, give thanks to somebody. Or give thanks to life like Mercedes Sosa did in this famous song that surely must be one of the most beautiful songs there is in Spanish.
I know the phrase is used more as a muletilla, but your words mean what you say they mean. You can choose to be sincerely grateful. I am.
And with that, another blog post written and a beautiful morning awaiting me, gracias a Dios, I’ll sign off. ¡Gracias! ¡Adiós!
Thankee! (I’ve always wanted to say that. Haven’t you always longed to talk like a Charles Dickens character, too?)
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this phrase? Had you heard it before? How have you heard it used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?