I've been spending too much — or not enough — time with humans lately.

Or maybe I'm becoming older faster than I'm becoming wiser.

In any case: dang.

"No Problem!"
I just can't get my arms around the way people talk these days.

My biggest bugaboo of the moment is "no problem" in reply to "thank you."

I know it is said humbly, but it dismisses the original act of kindness. It's a smaller version of telling someone who is bereaved, "No big deal."

I first heard "no problem" in reply to "thank you" in Jamaica. It was part of longer sentence. The longer sentence (in its entirety): "No problem, mon."

Cool running. 

What A Crank I Am
As if you needed more proof of my crankiness, here's a letter I recently sent a favorite banker: 


I was in your fine bank this morning. The teller was expert and kind. The transaction was swift and accurate. I was grateful.

In fact, I was grateful enough to say, "Thank you."

The teller's reply? "No problem." Maybe it was: "It's no problem."

No problem? Whatever does that mean? I know that's what many people say, but what does it mean? It means: "I did so little for you that it was nary a gnat in my day." Maybe it means: "We are so devoted to our clients that we don't see their business as problems." Even so, it doesn't seem very professional.

Isn't the proper reply: "You're welcome"? And isn't that what the teller meant to say? That I am — as a customer — welcome to the teller's services?

Etiquette instructs fine waiters to reply: "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am," because they are not the diner's peer and therefore unable to accept thanks. (I'm not asking my tellers to bow and curtsey. We are peers.)

Perhaps a reply might be: "It's my pleasure." Or: "Thank YOU." Or: "We are very glad to have your business." Or: "Come back anytime." Or: "We are here for you." Or: "Is there anything else we can do for you?"

But: "No problem?"


— Artie

Now David and I waste our time counting how often we say "yeah" and how often others say "no problem."

The Final Word
This lovely video from the great actor and intellect Stephen Fry helps put my bugaboo into perspective.

It reminds me of the famous test offered from 1878 until this year by All Souls College at Oxford. The college's applicants were offered a single word. (For more on this, see "Oxford Tradition Comes to This: 'Death' (Expound)" in the Times.)

Fry's video is an apt response to the prompt: "language." And it's a caution to me to not be a pedant.

I hope you enjoy it. More than that, I hope you "bubble and froth and slobber and cream."