Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Is There a Problem with "No Problem"?

Visual Thesaurus subscriber "Curious Cat" has struck a nerve. Commenting on a Word Routes column last month about annoying words, "CC" wrote:

My bugbear: "No problem" in response to "Thank you" in restaurants. "You're welcome" is disappearing in this context. I assume that my business is not a problem.

Lexicographer Erin McKean picked up on the "no problem" complaint and used it as the topic of her language column in the Boston Globe on Sunday. And it turns out Curious Cat has an awful lot of company.

"Many especially dislike hearing 'no problem' in commercial transactions and from folks in customer service jobs, since, as the customer is always right, nothing a customer could ask for could ever be 'a problem,'" McKean writes. Judging by the avalanche of comments left on the Globe column (200 and counting), "many" is an understatement. To be sure, some of the commenters don't have a problem with "no problem," but the majority are in Curious Cat's camp. Voices got heated on both sides of the debate, however, as things ended up getting a little nasty. (Meanwhile, over on Stanley Fish's New York Times blog, "no problem" was selected by readers as the most disliked phrase in English.)

The linguist Sally Johnson once wrote, "It is not language per se, but its power to function as a 'proxy' for wider social issues which fans the flames of public disputes over language." That seems to be the case with the strident back-and-forth by the Globe commenters. It's not so much about the two words "no problem" but about how social roles are negotiated in the public ritual known as the service encounter. It probably didn't help that the Globe column came out on the weekend after Thanksgiving, when the beginning of the holiday shopping rush raises blood pressure among both cashiers and customers.

This little episode serves to demonstrate how language can take on outsized importance in certain corners of our lives, and a seemingly innocuous choice like that between "you're welcome" and "no problem" can be freighted with all sorts of social significance. McKean suggests that "perhaps the 'no problem' of service workers is a way to reclaim some measure of power — 'no problem,' after all, does remind the customer that her request is technically within the power of the employee to grant or refuse." That kind of shift in the power dynamic of thanker and thankee can, it seems, have a seismic effect for many English speakers. For others it might be no problem at all — no big whoop, as Linda Richman might say.

Where do you come down on the big "no problem" debate? Sound off in the comments below — but, as always, please keep the encounters civil! Thank you for reading, and please come again.


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Ben Zimmer is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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Comments from our users:

Monday November 30th 2009, 2:47 AM
Comment by: jeff C. (Plantation, FL)
I enjoy the dynamic and changing nature of life and of language. Many words or sayings come to the fore while others may drift back into history or obscurity as either overused, abused, or no longer have meaning as new generations are born and age and the historical root of words or sayings is almost impossible to trace.

You can mention to anyone that a person "got run out of town on a rail" and OF COURSE they know what it means--so they think--the person was put on a train in the olden days and told to stay out--(which of course---it has nothing to do with trains.)

I usually go by what the person intends or means when they are speaking.

If I say thankyou in a service environment and the person says "no problem" I take no offense and I consider the setting as likely being one that is more up close and personal and also a show of assumed or associated bonding with myself as being OK. If being let out of a limosine and I said thankyou--I would not expect him to reply "no problem", and he wouldnt.

If a 97 year old D-Day veteran thanked a teenager for helping him with the gate the teenager certainly would not reply "no problem" He would likely say y"your welcome" so as to reply in the recipients known chosen language.


If "your welcome" has become so comman that it has become numb--then I say enjoy life and language and switch to something else. If I am asked "hows it goin?" I will respond with anything from "so far so good" to "not so crappy pappy--how about you?"

thankyou
Monday November 30th 2009, 5:50 AM
Comment by: Andrea D. (Cambridge, MA)
"No problem" is the same as saying, "It's nothing...," or "Say nothing of it." This IS the way that THANKS are acknoweldged in the few other languages/cultures I know well: Spanish: "De Nada" Greek: "Tipota." Both mean "Nothing." From the perspective of these two cultures--and probably many others, Americans say Thank You so frequently, and in response to trifling actions that some others have the grace to take for granted, it can almost seem fawning. Perhaps it's a relief to have something more meaningful in everyday language to respond with--something that almost dismisses the thanks as unnecessary. I think it's gracious.
Monday November 30th 2009, 7:55 AM
Comment by: Arik Johnson (Chippewa Falls, WI)
I have always been partial to the South African "My pleasure" or simply "Pleasure..." - as in, pleasure doing business with you.
Monday November 30th 2009, 9:12 AM
Comment by: Don H. (Antioch, CA)Top 10 Commenter
I'm in favor of not sitting in judgment upon other people's innocuous speech, even if they use words and terms that seem to me to be in bad usage. People taking offense where no offense was intended has become one of the most tiring things in my life, these days. There seems to be a lot of it going around. (More all the time.)
Monday November 30th 2009, 9:16 AM
Comment by: Jayna M.
As a former travel agent, I picked up "no problem" on several fam trips to Jamaica. Now I use it without thinking. But I also use "you're welcome" without thinking. Now, how about those store clerks who glance at your driver's licence and proceed to mispronounce your name when they say thank you...?
Monday November 30th 2009, 9:49 AM
Comment by: Geoff A. (United Kingdom)
I agree with you, Andrea, on all counts.

French (de rien) and Russian (ne nada) echo Spanish and Greek in declaring that whatever the recipient of the thanks did was 'nothing'. The implication is twofold: firstly, that the action didn't *merit* any thanks (because the action was 'nothing'); secondly, therefore, that the 'nothing' response isn't so much an acknowledgement as a cancellation of the thanks.

And you are wise, Andrea, to highlight the cultural difference between the American and European contexts in which much of this 'service gratitude' takes place. 'Have a nice day' springs to mind as another example of the urgent need that Americans feel to grease the grinding gears of humdrum commerce. In England, shoppers, diners, etc, and those who serve and wait on them, don't feel the same need to acknowledge the humanity of the other; often they don't even bother to share in the linguistic fumblings of a relationship by employing such phrases as 'thank you', 'you're welcome' or even 'no problem'.

Those who serve are paid to do so; therein lies society's 'thanks'. It's a business contract, not a favour being given and received. One could say that it's the shopper, diner, etc, who deserves to be thanked for bringing business to this particular store or restaurant. But these 'thanks' are conveyed by the quality of goods and service.

Why is there this difference between the USA and Europe, which is often (unfairly, I think) interpreted as the difference between 'good' and 'bad' service? I think it may lie in a difference in attitude towards 'service' per se.

Perhaps Americans are so deeply 'republican', in the sense of 'anti-royalist' and by extension 'anti-hierarchical', that they instinctively react against having people be subservient to them - and likewise the servers don't enjoy being put in the position of 'servants' as if they weren't equal to the people they serve.

All Americans are meant to be equal, and so servers and servees strive and strain to portray this fact during their commercial transactions by using coded language to express a recognition of each other's equal humanity - even though this may not be a genuine recognition.

In Britain, certainly, where we aren't citizens but *subjects* of Her Majesty, we don't have the same need. We recognise that in practice all persons *aren't* equal here except in the eyes of the law, which will back you up if you can be bothered or afford to go to court. But mostly we are content to conduct our unequal relationships on the basis of business contracts, as I explained earlier, without the need to construct a momentary and illusory relationship of equality between those who serve and those who are served.

If that sounds a touch Dickensian, at least it's realistic, whereas the American approach can appear to us as a touch Utopian and even hypocritical when those who serve are blatantly NOT equal to the served, and may even be in the situation of being exploited.

I am a Brit married to an American and love all things USA, so I am not seeking to offend anyone, merely fumbling after the truth in love.
Monday November 30th 2009, 10:49 AM
Comment by: Jim
Saying "No Problem" ranks along with Giving someone a gift, and when they say thank you, you reply "Oh, it's nothing". Which tremendously devalues the gift and the act of giving -as you just said it was "Nothing".

Whenever someone says "Thank You"to me - I will generally reply "It was my pleasure!" Which also means, I appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you.
Monday November 30th 2009, 11:35 AM
Comment by: Andrea D. (Cambridge, MA)
Can I say "[It was my] pleasure," in Spanish and sound colloquial? As a second-language speaker of Spanish, I've struggled to find that response.
Thanks!
Monday November 30th 2009, 11:50 AM
Comment by: Ericka M. (Chicago, IL)
This is a bad habit I've been trying to overcome. I don't work in customer service, but in daily life I find myself responding to 'thank you' with 'no problem' quite frequently. I think it's easily misunderstood as 'stop thanking me,' which is not my intention. I like Arik's suggestion above of 'my pleasure' or just 'pleasure.'
Monday November 30th 2009, 1:59 PM
Comment by: Pat
And I quote:

Don't want to receive the VT word of the day? No Problem.

Click this link to remove your email address from the list.
Monday November 30th 2009, 5:35 PM
Comment by: Annie G. (Gladwyne, PA)
I've really appreciated these comments, especially Andrea's and also Don's observation that it seems tiresome to take offense where none is intended. I admit I have found the use of "no problem!" and its breezy cousin "no prob!" a bit clunky, but I'm trying not to get too exercised by something that's clearly meant to sound benevolent.

It reminds me of the painful working through of my loathing of the response, "I'm fine", made by someone who had just been offered, for example, more beer or a second helping of turkey. It took me several years to stop thinking, "I didn't ask how you were, you idiot, I asked whether you wanted something!"

Over the years it has come to seem to me unpleasantly overwrought to get too angry about speech patterns and expressions that are different from my own. They're interesting, sometimes startling, but I don't think I can attribute their use to malice!
Monday November 30th 2009, 6:11 PM
Comment by: Jon D. (King of Prussia, PA)
I actually prefer 'No Problem' to 'You're Welcome,' and I am pretty surprised that the subset of people who like to post comments to articles appear to differ with my perception of the phrases.

For starters, "You're Welcome" is odd in a grammatical sense: what are they welcome to? I see welcoming as primarily meaning inviting. In this context, "You're welcome to visit" is so very different from "You're welcome." Yet, the root of the phrase is identical.

As a result, I see "You're Welcome" as being a bit ambiguous as a term, whereas "No Problem" is more precise, and as I see it, quite gracious.

"No Problem" to me indicates that what you've asked for is "not a problem" for one of many reasons, but any of the reasons indicate that the request outranked the other things I had planned on doing before I did the thing I was just thanked for. "No Problem" implies "you come first in this social transaction, and don't think anything of my putting aside my other things to help you right now." Gracious!

It's funny that you mention the shift in social power structure in your post, because I see it quite the opposite from the way you posit:

"You're Welcome" indicates to me that the time spent facilitating the request that garnered the "thank you" was valuable enough to say that "you're welcome to use the time I have to serve your needs." Subtle ouch.

Whereas "No Problem" indicates, to me, that what is being telegraphed is that the fulfillment of the request was not burdensome, even though it might have been. It's selfless in that you're white-lying as a way to not make the requester feel uncomfortable that they asked for something of you. It's also more coy, I suppose; and that might be where the difference in construal comes from.
Monday November 30th 2009, 9:16 PM
Comment by: Valerie P.
When there is a change in our language, it often feels like a fingernail scraping down the blackboard. As a feminist, I cringe when some "gentleman" asks about "you ladies" or worse, "you girls". As an English teacher, I regularly corrected students who replied "Good" when I asked them how they were. As a mother of a teenager, the overworked word, like, made my blood pressure rise! There are so many changes in our everyday language; all we have to do is to listen to a radio program from the 50's or 60's to realize just how much our language is evolving and transforming itself. These days I try to avoid being shocked or insulted by what seems to be a cavalier way of speaking, especially by our young people.
Monday November 30th 2009, 10:19 PM
Comment by: nannywoo (Wilmington, NC)Top 10 Speller
Valerie P. mentioned the "gentleman" who uses sexist language. What about the word "gentleman" itself! I can't figure out why the "gentleman's club" gets that name, when my guess is the motives and actions of its members are far from gentlemanly. And what about the witnesses who say, "The gentleman with the gun who was robbing the bank..."? How does this thug earn the title of gentleman?
Monday November 30th 2009, 11:30 PM
Comment by: Jon D. (King of Prussia, PA)
Valerie P,

That's the odd thing about the on-line reaction to "no problem" -- it seems to have shocked or insulted many people as an alternative to "you're welcome."

One has to wonder if it's the words or the times...
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 12:49 AM
Comment by: Paul C. (Kaneville, IL)
OK, I agree with the discussion about 'no problem', but enough already. When I see 'discussions' like this it reminds me of my senior year high school English teacher. Her favorite rejoinder to any hint of disrespect or disbelief in anything she said was, "I was the valedictorian of my graduating class at the University of Illinois and I know what I'm talking about. Pay attention to me and you will learn."

She had two favorite word routes or fill-in phrases to give her pause to think about her next word choice or thought, 'per se' and 'as it were'. I once counted the number of times she used 'as it were' in her 45 minute class–53 times, as it were. She drove me crazy, as it were. I counted her 'per se' usage one time too–32 times. I think she somehow felt my dislike for her though I was never openly disrespectful, per se, and as it were. I'm not certain I used 'per se' and 'as it were' correctly in the preceding sentence, but I don'care whether or not I did. So take that and sit on it Miss S.
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 1:20 AM
Comment by: Don H. (Antioch, CA)Top 10 Commenter
That was good, Paul! She was a teacher worthy of your contempt, even if she was valedictorian of her class. (Perhaps pity would have been a more appropriate reaction because that woman was sad....)
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 2:45 AM
Comment by: Antonia D. (Sydney Australia)
I cannot say that I dislike the expression "no problem" more than similar expressions. What I dislike whenever I hear them uttered is the fact that the way they are said tells me that in fact the person using them is doing it automatically, that is, they give me the feeling that the person I was thanking to for whatever reason was at all times absent. His or her body might have been present, but not their minds. “It was a pleasure”, when used, not only gives me the sensation that the person I’m thanking to is present mentally, but also because the word “pleasure” is used, through what is called a spreading activation of semantic memory (Collins, A.M. & Loftus E. F. (1975). A spreading activation of semantic memory. Psychological Review, 82, 407-428) a plethora of words and images linked to the word pleasure are triggered and certainly a different emotion from the one the word “problem” would trigger.
And speaking of really annoying words, nothing annoys me more than hearing or reading “he or she”, and I recall that I proposed once in one of my essays the form “s/he” to replace “he or she” (and similarly, I found a form to replace “his or her”, something I do not recall at the moment). Certainly I have noticed that after “he or she” began to be widely used, some very sensitive authors, especially men authors, with a deep love for language, at least in my opinion, began to use "she", instead of the newly adopted “he or she” or the usual “he” (which sometimes, when the use of “he” would have been more appropriate, in their writings, than the use of “she”, made me smile, as in that particular context it would have been impossible for me not to see their subtle irony). And saying this I can only hope that our linguists will have mercy on us and think about some pleasant sounds to replace the very unpleasant sounding (at least to my ears) “he or she”. The use of “he or she” annoys me so much that I’m thinking to replace it with “s/he” and explain it with a small note; of course this might work when used in writing; however, when spoken, “s slash he” is no better than “he or she”, perhaps even worse, so we definitely need the help of linguists; could it be an absolutely new beautifully sounding word?
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 10:26 AM
Comment by: Don H. (Antioch, CA)Top 10 Commenter
An even stranger "solution," used by liberal thinking people at my graduate school at MSU during the early 80s was to move the pronoun back and forth between male and female.

I'm sometimes using he/she. What I'm waiting for is for the false plural to become acceptable. "Anyone can do what they put their mind to." I already use that sometimes. (I think it will be the real solution someday when people get on board.)

Usually I just write around the problem. "All of us can do whatever we put our minds to," or something similar.

I find, "Anyone can do what he/she puts his/her mind to" to be completely unacceptable.
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 10:26 AM
Comment by: Jon D. (King of Prussia, PA)
Ben,

There are clearly a lot of emotions swirling around words and phrases out there, and it merely takes an article on "no problem" to get a peek at what is bothering people in other sectors of the linguistic universe.

With that, I think there's an opportunity for a new Visual Thesaurus tool: For each word or phrase in the thesaurus, provide the opportunity for a like/dislike social voting scheme -- and maybe even a message board when people can comment and opine. This would add a new social dimension to thesauruses!
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 10:27 AM
Comment by: Doug M.
I used to have a problem with "no problem" until I realized it was more in line with other languages as well as English responses like "it was nothing" or "think nothing of it" (which do feel more gracious).

There is a slight problem for me with Curious Cat: if we assume a server is just doing their job by taking care of business, why bother to thank them in the first place? My guess is the "Thank you" is generally no less perfunctory than the "No problem" and both simply add a little oil to the transaction to make it go smoother.
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 11:30 AM
Comment by: Laughlines (Seattle, WA)
"Take Care"

These filler words spoken from the lips of strangers, acquaintances, friends and family have annoyed me for years.

In my opinion, Take Care should only be used in times of trouble and never used from a stranger. When a stranger says this to me it feels insincere, dismissive and down right annoying. One of these times I'm going to say Take care of what? If they respond (setting them up) "yourself” I might just blurt out, oh how nice of you, do you really mean it even though you just rang up my groceries and I've never seen you before.

Chances are pretty good that my verbal edit button will be on and I would never blurt out the above response. However I can assure you that the invisible thought bubble above my head will be spewing off grumble words.

If strangers are going to continue to attempt to use filler words to cut the silence or sincerely say something nice to me without using "Take Care" I'd rather them say something like, "Stay our of trouble young lady" (I'm middle aged) or "Go have some fun" or just "see you next time".
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 12:12 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
I see the 'no problem' being suitable in the quote given from the e mails we get about the daily words. There isn't a problem disconnecting and 'you're welcome' wouldn't suit.

The two are different. It's the replacement of 'you're welcome' with 'no problem' that bothers me.

And it does bother!

Don, so does that agreement of pronouns!
Tuesday December 1st 2009, 9:30 PM
Comment by: Sam G.
I was in the retail business for many years and I always replied to my customer's "thank you" with "it is a pleasure to serve you and please come again."

"No problem" is an neutered form for "you are welcome." I believe this slang can be attributed to the use of the Internet as a means of communication. What a shame that such a beautiful language as English is aculturated by the advent of the Micro Chip world.

Remember, these people are your customers and they make your business survive or fail.

Thank you for reading my comment.
Sam G.
Wednesday December 2nd 2009, 5:10 AM
Comment by: Antonia D. (Sydney Australia)
I have used the comments below for a different article but I think that I can use them in relation to what I said above, in order to clarify what I wanted to be understood:

Part I

What about using the following replacements?

“he or she” - heesh
“him or her” - heemsh
“his or hers”) – heersh

And before saying what follows, I want to say that I have nothing against “he”, “him”, and “his” being used as before the pronoun revolution. I’ve been called “Antonio” instead of “Antonia” in many business letters I received (and never complained), and I have laughed with all my heart (and I still laugh when I recall those surprised faces) when those sending me the letters related to the business I was in at the time, finally met me and were surprised to see that “Antonio” was actually a woman. So Karen D. is right in saying (though she refers to language only) that novelty of any kind is acquired with extreme difficulty. Never the less it is possible. And, no, I do not think that I am in trouble, when it comes to intelligent people, as I like to think that many intelligent ways could be found.
Now coming back to my proposal of the new words:
I think that in order to successfully replace “he or she”, “him or her”, and “his or hers” with three new gender neutral words, one has to find three words that have similar sounds to the three expressions themselves. In this way the memory would not be stretched (it is easier to connect “he or she” with heesh, than with thon). For example, the sounds of thon would rather trigger in my mind words such as thunder, thong, thongs, even the word thou, which would bring in mind the second person rather than the third, and this would not be very helpful to fix the new word in my memory (and as a consequence I would, especially in a conversational context, use something I already know well, instead of making a pause to think which new form I am to use for possessive, etc.). Similarly for “him or her”, an expression containing “m”, a consonant the other two expressions do not incorporate would make heemsh easy to connect to “him or her” and also to the idea of having it used when the accusative form is required. The same goes for “his or hers”, an expression containing “r”, a consonant the first expression does not contain, and is not emphasized within the second, where “m” is the unique consonant, as it is not to be found within the first and the third expressions. Consequently I think that I would very much like to hear heesh, heemsh, and heersh replacing the above named expressions, if “he” cannot be accepted anymore, and “she” is not entirely accepted as its replacement, though I have never found the use of “he” disturbing in any way, as I always understood it as gender neutral form, when the context required such a form. As far as the use of “they”, one needs to change the subject to its plural form, and this might not always be wanted, and to use it incorrectly as a replacement of a singular form would be something I would dislike most.
Wednesday December 2nd 2009, 5:12 AM
Comment by: Antonia D. (Sydney Australia)
I have used the comments below for a different article but I think that I can use them in relation to what I said above, in order to clarify what I wanted to be understood:

Part II
What is to be noticed about this pronoun problem, however, is the fact that it is a problem of presence and capability: If the person I’m talking about is in front of my eyes, (for example, say that I am in a group of three and I’m saying to one that the other can do this or that, I’ll say: “he can do it” or “she can do it”, depending on whether the person I’m talking about is a man or a woman, and, please notice, this would not be seen as a sign of being not polite, as I would try to convince one party for the benefit of the other) I can see whether is a man or a woman, and consequently I will use he, him, his if a man, or she, her, hers, if a woman. Only when I talk about a person in general in relation to certain capabilities (in a certain role, and any role would do), and I want my interlocutor to understand that I assume that the person having those certain capabilities can be either a woman or a man, then I need to use one of the mentioned expressions, unless I know that the person I’m talking to has already incorporated the idea, into “his or her” (heesh) mind system, that both men and women can have those capabilities, and therefore whatever pronoun I would use would be of no importance. The use of “He” or “She”, related strictly to a man or a woman, at least in my mind, is important to show whatever can pertain strictly to either the notion of man or woman (for example, a woman cannot have a prostate, nor a man can breastfeed a baby). Beyond these bodily natural constraints, I like to think that when it comes to thinking matters, both men and women, by now (we are living in the 21st century) would have come to the conclusion that being at war with each other (the so called war of the sexes) is meaningless and certainly not constructive.
And the fact that some women wanted “he” to be replaced, in my view, shows insecurity about one’s own capabilities.
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 9:14 AM
Comment by: Pat
"Heesh, Heemsh, and Heersh!" I love it. Brought tears of laughter to my eyes.

Would like to add that anthropology students might choose some other occupation if they had to constantly invent some other word for "mankind."
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 11:35 AM
Comment by: Antonia D. (Sydney Australia)
Dear Pat
I had a coffee, today, in a very sunny spot with my son, an absolutely splendid sunny day, and, among many things we talked about, after explaining to him that there seems to be a pronoun problem, a problem he knew about, I uttered for him the three new magic words, and guess what: he had the same reaction as you did. They do sound funny, don’t they?
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 12:43 PM
Comment by: Antonia D. (Sydney Australia)
Addendum
Mind you my inventiveness related to the three magic words (Heesh, Heemsh, and Heersh) was born out of irritation. But I’m glad that their effect was laughter (as somehow, there was a funny glimmer in my eyes when I thought about them). And if this is the case, perhaps we should adopt them, after all, as we already know that laughter is so good for our health, and as the use of these pronouns is so frequent, we would find ourselves laughing 59 out of 60 minutes.
Mankind? If you think about the word itself it cannot be irritating. How can it be when man is associated with kindness to form this word? But then is every man kind? Would we replace it with womankind, the same question would surface, would it not? Or perhaps I should think that the “kind” part of the word refers to the type of man rather than kindness. But then is man of one kind only, or are there many kinds? The anthropology students, wise as they are, are waiting for a major change to happen within everyone’s mind, rather than change a singular and unifying form, which expresses rather the future, with the form we have at the moment, a form that would be better expressed, for the sake of accuracy, with a plural (mankinds).
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 2:25 PM
Comment by: barry M. (newport Beach, CA)
"seriously?" , it's very condescending.
Thursday December 3rd 2009, 10:47 PM
Comment by: Clarence W.
"No prob, Bob". That bit of dialogue from 12 Monkeys is still popping in my mind.

"Not a problem", a phrase used in law enforcement circles, is usually said with an inflection intending to convey, "Happy to do it and it caused no inconvenience", with a heavy sprinkling of honor, duty, and service that is a self-imposed, daily discipline.
Tuesday December 8th 2009, 9:57 PM
Comment by: Nena D. (W Hartford, CT)
I don't like the use of "no problem." In fact, I find it pretty irritating, so I'm in the Curious Cat camp. I don't agree that responding "no problem" is the same as responding "de nada."

In the first instance, a waitperson (for example) is saying "you didn't cause me a problem," as if the norm and expectation of their service job is problems (fka hassels), caused by those pesky customers who ask for the menu, the specials, whatever.

In the second, the waitperson is minimizing his/her own actions in responding to the customer request, as if their job norm/job description is defined as responding to customers' requests.
Wednesday December 16th 2009, 11:54 PM
Comment by: Scott B. (Omaha, NE)
Words and word phrases do not come equipped with meaning: We bring meaning to words. "No Problem" in my experience means "You're Welcome", but what does that imply. "You're welcome to ask me anytime." or " You're welcome in my house." or possibly "You're welcome...this time.". We can argue all day over meaning, connotation, and personal preference, but our experiences with these words shape the meanings in our mind.

For me, (New york accent) I got no problem with no problem, (British) pleasure, my pleasure, (Jersey, exit 43) forgettaboutit, (Pacino, Scent of a Woman) get outta here, (Alabaman female) yall r welcome anytime, (Me, slightly nasaly midwesterner) or any other way of completeing the communication circle. Would you rather they just nodded and smiled (non english speaker)? For me it's truly "Not a problem". I am happy you answered at all.
Tuesday December 22nd 2009, 12:21 PM
Comment by: L. C. S. (Albuquerque, NM)
Sorry gang, but Ben is very right from our point of view. "De nada" or "Por nada" is part of a much longer train of thought that has no relevance in English.

When a youngish waiter or waitress says, "no problem," it demeans the restaurant's patrons. It implies, "I don't mind that you bothered me with your request for more water."

It's a close second to being greeted at the door, with "Hi, guys. How many?"

"You're welcome" or "My pleasure" are the only "service oriented" responses.

We're not "hanging out" together, and we're certainly not on equal terms of I'm the customer and you're the service provider. I'm a consultant and would never address a customer in such familiar terms.

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What words do you find most annoying?
The favorite and least favorite words in the Visual Thesaurus community.