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20-40-60 Etiquette: Problem saying?

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Are people more likely today to say "no problem" in response to a "thank you"? [Thinkstock photo]

Are people more likely today to say "no problem" in response to a "thank you"? [Thinkstock photo]

QUESTION: How, when and why did "No Problem" become a response to "Thank You," instead of "You're welcome"? Very seldom do you hear the latter anymore!

CALLIE'S ANSWER: “No problem” is a completely fine response. The person is telling you there is no need to thank them. “You're welcome” is more a response when thank you is warranted.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: It is interesting that you asked this question because you're not the first person to observe this. I don't think twice when I hear a “no problem,” although “you're welcome” is the traditional response to “thank you.” I think I've used both, and “no problem” is definitely more casual. Maybe it's just a different response in the evolution of language or maybe people think of “you're welcome” as too formal for conversation. It isn't, but in another realm that skews younger, I've seen “np” used in texting language just as often in response to “ty” (thank you) as “yw” (you're welcome). Perhaps that's where saying “no problem” originated.

HELEN'S ANSWER: This is the second time this week this question has come up. The other reader said almost the same thing: “My pet peeve is when I thank someone like a restaurant server, nine times out of 10, their response is “no problem.” Why can't they just say “thank you?”

It may be generational. A “thank you” does require a “you're welcome” in my books. There is a television anchor who responds like that when someone says thank you, and I always notice how nice that sounds.

“No problem” just sounds less gracious, like there was a problem to begin with. I do find myself using “no worries” sometimes, so hopefully it will not be a problem to change that language. Every Chick-fil-A order taker says “my pleasure” when you say thank you. It sounds pretty good!

GUEST'S ANSWER: Christina Nihira: The question you pose is an interesting one.

The catch phrase “no problem” seems to be interchangeable these days with “thank you” among large segments of the population. Taking a more intimate look, this verbal response seems to be generational.

Gretchen McCulloch, who writes daily on her “All Things Linguistic” blog, devoted an entire column two years ago to this very subject. She astutely draws the conclusion that the reply is what divides baby boomers from millennials.

Some baby boomers get annoyed when they don't get the gracious “you're welcome” response they anticipate. Millennials, in contrast, believe that saying “you're welcome” feels insincere.

McCulloch's interpretation is that “you're welcome” means to baby boomers what “no problem” means to millennials.

The result is a lost-in-translation moment. The division is wide and emotional states are at risk. To avoid the confusion, try to communicate your true feelings.

Appreciation and gratitude go a long way.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email helen.wallace@cox.net.

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