For many years the automatic polite response to “thank you” was “you’re welcome.” But in recent retail encounters and visits to the drive thru (which I regard as a modern English language “lab” of sorts given the youth of most staff) I am increasingly getting “no Problem” as a response to “thank you.” I don’t know about you, but I am a little uneasy with “no problem” as a substitute for “you’re welcome.” To me the new expression  implies that a routine action, like handing a cup of coffee out a window IS actually a bit of a problem, but for the forbearance of the clerk. To me, “no problem” is a response to a request, as in “Can you stay an hour after work,” with the answer, “no problem.” In that example one is clearly asking for something out of the ordinary and it might well pose a problem for the one being asked, in which case “no problem” is appropriate.  I’m not for a minute suggesting that “you’re welcome” isn’t just as insincere most of the time  as “no problem” , it’s just that it avoids altogether any suggestion that routine courtesies are in fact a chore. I am the first to admit that the English language is a constantly evolving process. For instance, it seems ok now to start sentences with AND and BUT, as long as you don’t overdo it. On the other hand ending sentences with a preposition is still frowned on in many circles unless it is a short sentence like “who did you dance with?” “With whom did you dance,” would seem pedantic and condescending in this instance, or as the eminent lexicographer H.W.Fowler puts it,”if the final preposition…sounds comfortable, keep it…” A number of subscribers to the Blog Quora weighed in on the subject, one writing,

If I think about the words I choose, I use “no problem” when I’m being thanked for a big effort that I would  gladly do again.  If I’ve staggered out of bed at 2:30 in the morning and driven an intoxicated friend home from a bar, “no problem” means it is so much less a problem for me to do this than to attend your trial or funeral.  “You’re welcome” would feel terse in this situation, and “my pleasure” would be an obvious lie.

Another “no problem” defender put it this way:

The phrase “no problem” is a short version of “It was no problem,” implying that it didn’t cause the person any trouble or hardship to do the thing for which they are being thanked.

It could be construed as an act of humility or deference, because they are suggesting that the action they performed, and any inconvenience it may have caused them, are unimportant relative to the positive impact to the thanking party.

Fully unpacked, it goes like this:

“It was no problem for me to hold the door for you, because your ease of access is more important than me getting to my car faster.”

Compare this with “You’re welcome”, which could be construed as an acknowledgement by the thanked party that they did do something worth thanking.

The final word on the subject goes to Bill Flanigan in a CBS new posting:

To all the young people of the world: If you want to get good tips or just generally not infuriate older people, PLEASE, only say “No problem” when there is a reasonable expectation that the task you are performing might be PROBLEMATIC.

i.e.: “Thank you for stopping your car in the rain to help me change a flat tire.”

“No problem.” Appropriate.

“Thank you for lending me ten thousand dollars to stop the bank from foreclosing on my house.”

“No problem.” Gracious.

“Thank you for giving me your kidney.”

“No problem.” Classy.

That’s what “No problem” is for! It’s a graceful way of telling someone you’ve gone out of your way to help, not to feel indebted.

But if you work in a doughnut shop and a customer thanks you for selling him a coffee, don’t say, “No problem.” He’s paying for the coffee!

Just say, “You’re welcome.”

Try it. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” Is that so burdensome?

And look at the bright side — all of us old people will be dead soon, and then everybody born after 1980 can say “No problem” to each other for the rest of your lives.

No Problem.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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