How do we rid ourselves of that ghastly phrase “no
I suppose it started in America; at any rate I noticed its
frequent use on a recent visit there. Perhaps
inevitably, it has caught on in Britain,
and with a vengeance.
You can rarely say thank you for any kind of service these
days without eliciting a “no problem”.
Waiters say it when you request the bill, repeat it when you proffer
your credit card, and roll it out again when you sign the receipt. Try to avoid saying thank you as they serve
you, or you’ll invite an endless barrage of “no problems”. Assistants in clothing stores say it when you
ask to try something on. Recently, I
bought a couple of jackets, and each request to try one on brought forth a Pavlovian
“no problem”. I counted eight in all.
It is a response devoid of feeling or meaning, uttered
reflexively by people who seem to be in a robotic trance.
Imagine a hangman asking a prisoner to step onto the
gallows trapdoor. Nowadays the condemned
would probably respond with “no problem,” even though the request would clearly
constitute a most serious problem.
“You’re fired, Jenkins!” you might yell, when
terminating an employee. “No problem,” Jenkins
would probably intone, as you pointed him to the exit. “And, Jenkins, close the door on your wait
out.” “No problem,” Jenkins would say.
It could be argued that earlier phrases like “you’re
welcome”, or “my pleasure”, were just as gratingly repetitive, but they were
usually delivered with a modicum of effort to convey sincerity. “No problem” is merely the audible
manifestation of an automated response system.
Jargon such as “no problem” may just be a symptom of a
lazy approach to language, but in restaurants, bars, stores and the like, in
which contact has to be made with the general public, it is a protection
against interacting with people you don’t know and don’t wish to know. Actually, endless iterations of “no problem”
mean you hate your job, because no one who really liked a job would erect such
a barrier to real communication.
Anyway, that’s my pet literary hate of the week and if
you think I have a problem with it, all I can say is, “No problem.”
Or if you’re Australian, “No worries, mate.”