The New York Times Magazine considers the evolution of America's sententious phrase du jour:
People were not always so generous with their thoughts and prayers. A contributor to Wordwizard, an online discussion group on language and usage, traced a building evolution of the phrase to the 19th century. There were scattered invocations of the phrase in the 1800s — including one attributed to Queen Victoria, as she addressed the Grenadier Guards before they headed off to Egypt (‘‘My thoughts and prayers go with you,’’ declared her majesty).
But thoughts and prayers were not often joined in public utterance until well into the 20th century. ‘‘My thoughts and prayers are with the delegates of my governments who are gathered in conference today,’’ King George said in a message to the Imperial Economic Conference in Ottawa, according to a New York Times account from 1932. ‘‘Our thoughts and prayers are with our young men who are fighting in Korea,’’ President Harry Truman said in a speech in 1950, while former President Dwight Eisenhower said ‘‘our thoughts and prayers are with them’’ after the deaths of three Apollo astronauts at Cape Canaveral in 1967. Gov. Ronald Reagan of California sent a handwritten condolence note to ‘‘Mrs. Robt. Kennedy,’’ reassuring her that ‘‘our thoughts and prayers are with you’’ after her husband was assassinated in Los Angeles.
The term’s saturation curve dates to the turn of the 21st century. Numerous ‘‘thoughts and prayers’’ pronouncements followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, both in public statements and in paid advertisements. ‘‘Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved one,’’ read a display ad from Morgan Stanley that appeared in The New York Times. Two years later, in the midst of the battle over the life of Terri Schiavo, the Florida patient and cause célèbre, Gov. Jeb Bush declared, ‘‘My thoughts and prayers remain with Terri and those who love her.’’ After Dick Cheney accidentally shot his hunting buddy, Harry Whittington, in 2006, the vice president mostly refrained from public comment, except to state that his ‘‘thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family.’’