"I would like to thank ..."

By Barbara Wallraff

That thoroughly ordinary staple of awards ceremonies demonstrates something curious about English -- and probably many other languages too. Namely: 


If you'd like to thank someone, why don't you? 

Um, I just did.

In "I would like to thank...," "would like to" means "I'm doing it even as I speak." But you won't find that meaning of in dictionaries -- at least, not anywhere you can find it, in any recognizable form. I believe this is called an "implicit performative utterance" -- "performative" because the statement actually does what it refers to, and "implicit" because it doesn't do it literally and directly, the way, for instance, "I hereby thank ..." would.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2009/02/-i-would-like-to-thank/49671/