Thursday, September 12, 2013

Going Postal 2

Okay, so I did my most “popular” post, now I’m going repost the one that I think is the best. And the winner is…

You’re Welcome [Originally posted Friday, June 24, 2011]

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 he implied 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?

Big surprise, I think an etymology post is my best one : ). It’s good because it’s a mix of my two favorite kinds of posts: rants and word origins. It manages to be informative as well as interesting. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself with that.


  1. wow, I'd not heard of 'no problem' being an issue. Eek. To me, 'You're welcome' sounds so formal.

  2. I wonder what that person would have thought of de nada (it's nothing), which basically conveys the same thing?

    My go-to phrase is 'no worries,' but I do say 'thank you' and 'you're welcome' to my kids. Just trying to train them well...

  3. I've never had a problem with no problem as a reply.

  4. Actually, I think the issue is that "no problem" implies "no thanks are needed, because it was no problem." I can understand some people feeling that their "thank you" is being devalued at that point. "You're welcome" acknowledges the thanks and respects it. Which is not to say that anyone is intending disrespect by saying "no problem," but I can understand some people taking it that way.
    Personally, I take it as a higher thing when someone says that the thanks isn't even needed. That says "it was my pleasure to do this; I'm not seeking gratitude." It's just that not everyone responds the same way.

  5. Good point, I see "no problem" with it;) Groovy blog:)

  6. I have no problems with no problem... I use it all the time.

  7. It is an interesting post.

    Funny how someone would get so upset over a "no problem". Just goes to prove that people can take things all sorts of ways.


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