“No Problem”

You live long enough and you become more attuned to changes in the language. Not just media-supported phrases like “where’s the beef” (because honestly, whoever really said that in real life?), but the little phrases and accents on words that slip into our language. And by ‘our’ I mean those of a generation younger than ours.

Like ‘no way’. Twenty years ago, we’d say ‘no way’ as a finite expression, as in ‘there is no way that that will happen.’ Now it’s not unusual that it’s followed up with “way.” As if the opposite of something not happening is something that is. Most of these are pretty unimportant. Just ways of talking that creep into our/our collective way of talking.

But occasionally there’s something that strikes me as representative of social attitudes that I am not that crazy about. And it concerns me that my daughter’s generation are using it and it may be a demonstration of their thinking. It’s the response, “no problem.” Increasingly I hear, in response to someone saying thank you, not “you’re welcome” but “no problem.” As though to do whatever they did that deserved a thank you might have been a problem for them. As though the operating principle is to do everything on personal terms and to do something for someone else just could be an inconvenience. I mostly hear it in the retail world. Yesterday at a store, while checking out I said the obligatory, thank you to the clerk, and in response she said, “no problem”

Let’s take that further. It was ‘no problem’ for her to ring up my purchase (isn’t that her job? are we to assume that for other customer it is a problem?), and spend money at her store (I have many options for where my money goes, and her response is that it was ‘no problem’ for her to take it?). Representing the Old Fogey set here, but shouldn’t she express some kind of gratitude that I spent my money there rather than somewhere else?

At work I hear this too from one of the younger staffers. Great gal, very cool, and I do believe that the ‘no problem’ is not representative of some kind of ‘I’m doing you a favor’ attitude. Which then makes me wonder if it’s just something that has become part of a way of talking, a mindless response that has substituted for ‘you’re welcome.’ Maybe my ears are just getting old. Or I am way too analytical, but I’m concerned that a continued use of this rather distancing, it’s all about me, phrase, might not be positive to a more collective world.

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~ by Susan Walker on May 31, 2010.

2 Responses to ““No Problem””

  1. I don’t like “no problem” because it side steps the nice connection that responding with “you’re welcome” creates. Together we are acknowledging a relationship as expressed in a simple, kind, exchange. “No problem” doesn’t allow the receiver of the recognition to really take in; It is a minor deflection. What I like best in the world is making connections. Any activity that side steps that makes me a teeny weeny unhappy.

  2. You get my point exactly. Although I think it’s something that has slipped into our way of speaking, the reception is less friendly and connecting as ‘you’re welcome.’

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