Friday, June 24, 2011

You’re Welcome

I was reading the newspaper’s letters to the editor when one person complained about receiving a “No problem” from a teenaged server rather than “You’re welcome.” The writer did not explicitly state annoyance at the response, but the implication was that he was insulted with the response.

This boggles me. When someone tells me “Thank you” I usually say “No problem” or some variant. I’m not sure why this would insult anyone since it’s an acknowledgement of the thanks just like “You’re welcome” is. “But ‘No problem’ is slang,” one might say. “The proper response is ‘You’re welcome.’”

Proper? Not slang? Do you realize who you’re dealing with?

There’s a reason I put this post on etymology day. “You’re welcome” was not always the proper reply for “Thank you.” When someone says welcome, usually they’re referring to an invited guest they’re glad to see. The word itself is from the Old English wilcuma, a—no surprise here—welcome guest. Wilcuma is a combination of willa—pleasure or desire—and cuma—guest. Those are also the origin words for will (not well) and come.

“Will come” is like saying “invited” and that’s the meaning wilcuma had when it was first recorded in the 1530’s. It wasn’t a polite reply until 1907. “No problem” is linguistic evolution, just like “you’re welcome” was last century.

The issue seems to be that “No problem” turns the focus from the thanker to the thankee by saying “It’s no problem for me to do what you asked” rather than “I’m glad I could help you.” I’m not sure why this would be. Why can’t “No problem” mean the same as “You’re welcome”? The latter certainly did not have that meaning two hundred years ago—saying it in reply to “Thank you” would be nonsensical.

I’m honestly not sure why I say “No problem” rather than “You’re welcome.” It just sounds right to my ears. See, I’m someone who worries about bothering people. I hate to ask for things. So when someone asks me for something, I tell them it’s no trouble for me because that’s what I’d like to hear in the same situation.

The problem is that you may not think the same way I do. It may come off as rude, but in terms of acknowledgment of thanks, “No problem” is no less steeped in meaning or response than “You’re welcome,” “No worries,” “Don’t mention it” or “It’s nothing”.

There’s no call for insulted replies, either. What if someone says “No problem” and others retort with “Well, it shouldn’t be a problem!” Is that any different if someone says “You’re welcome” and the reply is, “Well, I’m glad I’m welcome here or I can’t do my job!”?

What do you think? Is “No problem” really a problem? Should this even be a point of contention among people?


  1. Wow, I dunno--it just seems really nitpicky to me! But it's fascinating how subjective and crazy language and dialogue can be. Maybe we can utilize these diffs in our writing, yes? ;o)

  2. Great post! I say "No problem" instead of "You're welcome" all the time. This is a perfect example of language evolving, and I think for the better in this case.

  3. I say "no problem" too. I never really did understand why people said "you're welcome", but I said it anyways. It doesn't really make sense.

  4. I prefer "no problem" to "you're welcome" too. I didn't realize that I might be offending people. Oops.

  5. What an interesting post! And it is completely a generational thing. Young people will generally say "No problem." Older ones say "You're welcome." Can't we all just get along? What's the big deal anyway? I DO not want to turn into one of those elderly people that gets annoyed by such small trivia.

  6. My mom hates when she says "thank you" to someone and they answer "no problem" too. She says it implies that, in some circumstances, helping out might have been a problem. She would have responded to the server with, "Well, of course it's not a problem. Why on Earth would it be a problem? It's your stinking job."

    She also hates when she offers something to my stepkids and they hold up a hand and say, "I'm fine" or "I'm okay" instead of, "No, thank you."

  7. When I worked at Chick-fil-A, we were required to reply to "Thank you" with "My pleasure", which of course is an outright lie the majority of the time.

    I read a really amusing article once in which the person said that when she hears "No problem", she wants to come up with something that would be a problem, so as to elict a response along the lines of, "Now that's a problem! Wow!"

    Honestly-- and I say this as a person who has more pet peeves than any one person should have-- I think some people go looking for things to be annoyed about. And if you are writing letters to the editor about being annoyed by a pet peeve, then it's time to find a hobby.

  8. I imagine it's an intergenerational thing.

  9. I say "no problem" and I will continue to say "no problem." I think it's ridiculous that some people get so offended over something so inconsequential. In fact, I'm going to memorize this post just in case I ever DO come across someone who has a problem with "no problem!" It's a compelling argument.

    PS: Tag, you're it! I tagged you in a game of Blog Tag...

  10. People can take offense at the slightest of things. My friend James who is a manager for a big hotel said that a guest became livid and upset when he was given a room that was 20 feet further from the parking lot than the room that he normally receives when he stays at the hotel (a frequent visitor). He apparently got so angry that he went out into the parking lot and threw a fit, screaming at the top of his lungs, to the point that no one knew what to do or why he was behaving this way.

  11. I say 'No problem' all the time. It's kind of a cultural thing where I'm from, so I'd be amazed if anybody took offense to me saying it. There are far more important things to be worried or offended over, I'd think.


Please validate me.