I thanked the clerk for helping me with my purchase and she said, “You’re welcome.” I did a double take and was about to praise her for her use of the English language but, with a face that has enough lines to be a road map and hair the colour of silver, I reasoned that my complement probably wouldn’t be understood.
Let’s listen to what I normally hear in this same situation.
“Thank you,” a polite acknowledgement from me for their help.
“No problem,” is the response I usually get.
To myself I can’t help thinking, “Oh really. Well tell me, what would have made it a problem for you?” For me, what that person has done is place the acknowledgement of service on their own person. They’ve made it self-centred, so to speak.
The statement “You are welcome” clearly ingratiates the person who has provided the service to the person receiving it and the receiver can’t help but feel good about that.
I think that saying “No problem” focusses the thought on the person providing the service and claims that ‘you can be thankful that providing you with the service that I am paid to provide or is necessary for me to maintain my business is no problem to me at the moment’. I get the inference that I was fortunate they were able to break away from whatever they were doing and serve me with no problem to themselves. Is that supposed to make me feel good―the fact that I was ‘no problem’ to them?
I do try to accept our changing language. According to my wife, the linguist, change is inevitable, so suck it up Jack and get used to it.
I don’t like this one though. I don’t care.
I couldn’t write a rant like this without checking to see what others are saying on the subject. I found am not alone in recognising the change. There is a plethora of information and comment on the internet, but I looked to a Canadian source for some thoughts. The following is from Jack Chambers, a University of Toronto linguist. Dr. Chambers is a reputable linguistic source, but note that he never offers an opinion of what is right or wrong. Linguists don't seem to care what is happening to a language as long as they can measure the change.
He theorises that "no problem" came into American English because "you're welcome" came to seem formal. As "you're welcome" fades further, he added, "it will eventually be quaint and then it will be obsolete." (Note the 'American' bit, which makes me suspicious for a start. But I digress.)
He said that "no problem" simply had advanced as "you're welcome" retreated.
I think it could be worse. "No problem" could be replaced by "yup", or as you so commonly hear south of the border, “Uh huh”. However, it is notable that, on a past trip to Sedona, Arizona, I found the “you’re welcome” response was the norm. Maybe that’s because Sedona is over populated with grey haired retired folk, like me, driving expensive cars, unlike me.
I guess, according to Dr. Chambers, I’m now considered ‘quaint’ and will be finally become ‘obsolete’. Hmmm…..I seem to recall that I’ve been told that before.
Now, about that other response from the nouveau English speakers, “No worries”?
Oh, and about my image above—it has little to do with this essay, but I thought I’d include it as a little gift. You’re welcome!