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Sep 15, 2013 09:28 AM

Is "No problem" a problem?

I guess it's my credential for AARP membership, but I agree with people who bristle when younger generations say "no problem" instead of "you're welcome", "coming right up", or something else appropriate to the circumstance. On this week's Prairie Home Companion, there's a humorous sung prayer including a request that young people stop using the phrase, and on today's CBS Sunday Morning, it was essayist Bill Flanagan's (sp?) topic. "No problem" is a nice response when someone thanks you for doing something thoughtful that you were not obliged to do, like help a stranger lug a heavy item up a flight of stairs. It is not appropriate when someone thanks you for doing something that is part of your routine job duties, like a barista dispensing coffee, or a waiter filling your request for a glass ot water. Flanagan addresses people born after 1980, advising that if they want good tips, or simply to avoid pissing off people who wre born BEFORE 1980, they should only say "no problem" when the thing they did, or are about to do, can be rightly construed as presenting a difficulty.

Amen, I found myself thinking. But I've never said such a thing to anyone in a younger generation. I wonder if they would appreciate being clued in, or just think it's a ridiculous geezer thing. Does the conflation of
"no problem" with "you're welcome" bug you and if so, do you speak up?

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  1. Do you put as much thought into your response to 'How are you?'

    I haven't heard 'no problem' much, though it does not sound odd. It sounds as though it has become, in some circles, one of those automatic responses (like 'finethankyou').

    If you are this barista's boss or English teacher, by all means, correct her. If a customer, I'd say, just move on and let the next customer order.

    1. It sounds like I'm about the same age and I have no problem (sorry, there's no other way to say that) with "no prob".

      I use it myself. It means happy to be of service in a variety of circumstances and communicates that just fine. Especially accompanied by a smile.

      Language is a fluid thing. Flow with it. ; >

      1. Its informal and therefore fine for informal restaurants.

        May I ask your age?

        1. It's good for geezers (I include myself) to uphold correct use of standard English, but it is ridiculous to "bristle" at the casual use of the language by others, whether by young people or others. If you clue them in to their use of "no problem" they most definitely will not appreciate it but will merely think you are a (insert pejorative term of your choice here).

          1. I do not care for the use of "no problem", "not a problem", (uh, thanks? i guess i didnt realize I might be creating a problem for you...) and the cringe-worthy "my bad" in place of "I'm sorry".
            I also admit to having a snobby reaction to it, internally. Can't help thinking the speaker just doesn't know any better, missed out on good training. (I know, who do I think I am? :) ).

            Still, I try to focus on the intent and let it go. UNLESS you're one of my kids. Then I can't help at least discussing it so they know that it isn't considered polite by some.

            God help us, they don't even teach cursive in the schools anymore. How's a curmudgeon like me supposed to sleep at night? :)

            3 Replies
            1. re: bonoeuf

              I really don't think it has anything to do with good or bad manners, and I think the intent is usually well meant on the person using them. I really do think its a generational gap. It seems that over time language has become more casual, for good or for bad depending on who you are. I will say that I'm extremely good at subconsciously adapting my language to who I'm speaking to.

              1. re: SaraAshley

                Completely understand. That's why I said I go with intent.
                I will say, however, that it isn't as much the informality that bugs me as it is the inference.

                To respond to my gratitude by stating that I wasn't a problem just doesn't seem gracious to me.
                To each his own, though. I'm not trying to apply my standard to others, though I do have a personal opinion about it.

                1. re: bonoeuf

                  When taken literally to the point that "no problem" really is implying that you weren't a problem to them, I can see your point. I sort of see "no problem" to imply the same as "my pleasure." Which when taken literally, it doesn't mean the same thing, but that's just how I've always thought of it.