Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Correct Use of "No Problem"

You may recall my pet peeve with "no problem." Typically, some half-unshaven twentysomething hooked up to a music player uses the phrase to respond to a customer complaint, as if to say that he will tolerate the effrontery of interrupting his mp3 listening to handle a refund or a replacement request. Right, I was so worried about your entertainment at work, kid!

Yet there is a right way to use of the phrase and I came across it this week. On my way to work I thought I inadvertently inconvenienced a young woman and immediately offered an apology, to which she replied with a smile, "No problem." Exactly!

I had wronged her and she was being gracious, offering that it was no problem to her, speaking purely out of courtesy. In French, de rien (it's nothing) is offered, although usually it's in response to merci (thank you).

The sentiment is similar. I am really in your debt, but you offer graciously to relieve me of the burden by saying it was nothing, though we both know it was something.


Joan said...

I am glad you recalled the European way in which the phrase can be used: "Nessum problema!"

Indeed, it is no problem; for you, nothing is too much trouble! We are honoured to be of service to you!

Anonymous said...

Oh come on! A “half-unshaven twentysomething” vs. a “young woman” who replied with a smile? I don’t think the words used had much to do with the problem.

Anonymous said...

In London it seems to be Sorry in kind of a drawn out way. (in which they also might not really be sorry)

Cecilieaux said...

Thank you, Joan, although I sense we're living a different experience with this phrase.

Ranty, coming-on Anonymous: I could have described the twentysomething as a blonde with a little-girl voice incessantly playing with her hair, but people would have taken it the wrong way. If you are an oldersometing woman, as I suspect, deal.

Soooooory, London Anonymous. Exactly.

Anonymous said...

the use of "not a problem" is out of control. i made a dental appointment the other day. after confirming the appointment time i said "thank you." the reply was "not a problem." what happened to "you're welcome." i am fed up. next time will be ready with my reply "and why should it be a problem?"