The current, ubiquitous, use of the phrase “no problem,” as a response to expressions of gratitude, like “thanks” and in certain other instances, is improper and in fact, unsettling.

There seems to be an infinite variety of minor mishaps caused and experienced in a busy, interactive society such as ours; minor physical contact on busy sidewalks, burning toast, forgetting a name, arriving a little late, forgetting to return the hairdryer, among a myriad of others.

These minor misdemeanors, usually the result of preoccupation, forgetfulness or inattention, are fully and completely atoned for by the statement, “oops, I’m sorry,” “excuse me,” “pardon me.” A suitable reply might be “that’s ok,” “it’s nothing,” “forget it,” or the like. A disagreeable alternative is “no problem;” it is this latter phrase (now in vogue) with which we are concerned.

Some concern is based on the premise that this “reply du jour” to an apology, might seem to imply that if not for the generous forbearance on the part of the speaker, a problem would in fact exist. Such a response is thoughtless, insensitive and could even be seen as hostile.

Another unfortunate use of the subject phrase is in response to an expression of appreciation for assistance rendered to the elderly or disabled in navigating a high curb, picking up an object dropped by a stranger, helping someone to his feet or giving directions. The best response to “thank you” is “you are welcome.” Utilizing the mindless phrase may be understood to describe the discretionary choice of amnesty and is clearly inconsistent with the act of assistance. Nor is it warranted in the engagement of a contractor or mechanic (unless it has reference to the degree of difficulty of the job) the terms and price having been agreed to. One would not expect the phrase “no problem” to be used in response to words of appreciation expressed to an amply compensated doctor or lawyer.

There is at the very least, in addition to the criticism as to use of the expression as a response to words of gratitude, an aesthetic critique (with the phrase as such) with regard to which, p. affirmatively has a problem.



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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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