'No problem' instead of 'You're welcome!'

Discuss word origins and meanings.

responses to 'Thank you'

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:00 pm

susan lacasse wrote: I'm trying to find out when 'no problem', 'sure', 'anytime', 'yep', and the like, began to replace 'you're welcome'. Or were any of these in use earlier? Would love a response from Ken Greenwald and anyone else with info or ideas.
how about "contemporaneous with mommies entering the 'workforce'"?

responses to 'Thank you'

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jun 30, 2006 3:00 pm

Susan, The only YOU'RE WELCOME replacement I can comment on is NO PROBLEM. The rest are too vague for me to do a decent search on and I can’t myself recall when I first started hearing them. For some thoughts on NO PROBLEM see You’re welcome.

It’s my guess that NO PROBLEM / IT’S NOT A PROBLEM / NOT A PROBLEM as a synonyms for YOU’RE WELCOME appeared relatively recently (mid 1990s? Does anyone recall?) since it hasn’t made its way into most dictionaries with that meaning. However, the earlier (1960s) NO PROBLEM was a synonym for NO SWEAT (1950s), meaning, no trouble, no bother, no big deal, don’t worry, it’s alright. <“He said they had to be back in less than an hour. And his partner’s response was ‘NO PROBLEM.’”>. Notice that in this quote YOU’RE WELCOME would not fit, which should extinguish any lingering thoughts that the responses are completely interchangeable.

The transition from meaning NO SWEAT to specifically meaning YOU’RE WELCOME, however, is an understandable, if not pardonable one (<:), since saying ‘NO TROUBLE/BOTHER/WORRY. . .’ seems a reasonable response, in a situation where politeness requires that you say something. “Thanks for taking out the garbage” in polite society traditionally commanded a YOU’RE WELCOME, but evidently, for many, the new kid on the block, the hipper-sounding response NO PROBLEM, is usurping the earlier old standard.

What is it about NO PROBLEM that many of us find so repugnant while responses such as
‘Don’t mention it,’ ‘It was nothing,’ ‘No trouble’ don’t seem to rankle? - I find it hard to put my finger on it. Perhaps it is that it seems to be trying to create the illusion of a possible problem where none exists and the implicit miraculous dissolution of the issue by this prince of a person who said it. And it also shifts a response that it seems should be about YOU (you are welcome) to one that is about ME (no problem for the noble me), but, on the other hand NO TROUBLE does about the same thing. In any event, there’s clearly a huge number of folks who have no problem with NO PROBLEM while the old fuddy-duddies and defenders of ‘respectable’ English like myself resist the ugly onslaught as the barbarians breech the walls.

Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang (2005) defines NO PROBLEM as meaning “Don’t worry, it’s alright.” Perhaps they think that covers YOU’RE WELCOME, but in my opinion it doesn’t and if they believe that it does, it seems that they should say so specifically.

John Ayto’s 20th Century Words (1999) lists it as meaning “Used as a polite disclaimer to an (explicit or implicit) suggestion that one has been troubled.” But that’s still not YOU’RE WELCOME.

The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés (2001) was the only source I found which included the newer meaning YOU’RE WELCOME in the definition. However, they don’t tell when that event occurred and don’t provide any date or quotes for this newer meaning, although they do for the older one and, in fact, they seem to gloss over this question:

NO PROBLEM: That’s fine; you’re welcome; I’d be glad to help. This conventional reply expressing acquiescence and other positive feelings originated in America in the mid-twentieth century [[however there may have been some 30 years separating the introduction of the two meanings of the phrase]]. It also has taken hold in numerous parts of the non-English-speaking world; the author has heard it in France, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Singapore from individuals who otherwise knew almost no English (other than ‘okay’). Others report having heard it in Russia, where it is often used ironically, Kenya, and China. In Australia, however, it alternates with no worries (probably from 1930s British locution, not to worry). The journal American Speech recorded ‘no problem’ in 1963 as an equivalent of ‘no sweat.’ . . . It has quickly become as ubiquitous and as divorced from the words’ original meaning (i.e. there is no difficulty) as ‘have a nice day’ and ‘take care.’ Indeed, Pico Iyer pointed out that today “No problem’ . . . in every language means that your problems are just beginning.”

Note: The above 1963 American Speech statement actually says:
<1963 “NO SWEAT means ‘NO PROBLEM’”—‘American Speech,’ Vol. 38, No. 4, December, page 271>
Seems to me that if in 1963 they are defining ‘no sweat’ as meaning ‘no problem,’ that would seem to imply that ‘no problem’ existed first. But that's not the case since NO SWEAT dates from the 1950s as mentioned earlier.

It was a very difficult and time consuming task to find any examples of NO PROBLEM being used as YOU'RE WELCOME because there were so many examples of it being used to mean NO SWEAT and in the pedestrian examples such as ‘no problem exists,’ etc. that my search got swamped by dross and I was happy to find the one quote from 1996 (see below) and I hastily proceeded to call it day right there. My 1961 quote below (meaning ‘no sweat’) predates the earliest OED example (the above American Speech quote) by a few years.
<1961 “Days of Thrills and Laughter (20th Century-Fox). Here comes Charlie Chase, natty in knickerbockers and a steamer cap. Oops! It starts to rain. NO PROBLEM. Cheerful Charlie ducks under the nearest awning, buys a bumbershoot, strolls on his way.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 14 April>

<1963 “Both appeared less concerned with fashion than with Prince Philip's chances. NO PROBLEM, though. His team won a smashing victory.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 10 May>

<1963 “Feeling frustrated? Filled with nameless anxieties? NO PROBLEM. Simply ‘go into a room by yourself; put on your favorite music, throw off your clothes; and dance.’ So advises Laura Archera Huxley, wife of Writer-Philosopher Aldous, in her just-published collection of "Recipes for Living and Loving, . . ."—‘Time Magazine,’ 7 June>

<1973 “Finally, every time I emptied my glass, he took it, put more whisky in it, and gave it back to me, saying ‘NO PROBLEM’ again through his nose.”—‘The Rachel Papers’ by M. Amis, page 117>

<1977 “‘If I catch you fooling around I'll break your arm.’ ‘NO PROBLEM,’ John assured him easily.”—‘The Avalanche Express’ by C. Forbes, xi. page 116>

<1990 “Ask a man in Tierra del Fuego to point you to The Sound of Music, and he'll instantly reply, "NO PROBLEM!" (which, in every language, means that your problems are just beginning).”—‘Time Magazine,’ 2 July>

<1996 “Blikk: Thank you for your candid chitchat. Madonna: NO PROBLEM, . . . ‘Time Magazine,’ 20 May> [[Hungarian newspaper Blikk interview with Madonna while she is in Budapest performing in the musical Evita. 'No problem' was the translation. She could have said that or she could have just said you’re welcome, but either way, I think this is a bona fide example of its use]]
Note: [[ ]] indicate my comments.

Ken G – June 29, 2006

responses to 'Thank you'

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 30, 2006 3:30 pm

My friend from Brasil learned English by listening to Country Music. "No problem" surely walked a few miles in them boots. You mean what I say?

Use of the phrase

Post by DirtyMac » Thu Jul 13, 2006 10:05 pm

[Third grouping question -- Forum Moderator]

When is and when is not to use the word "no problem"

Consider the following scenario

Customer: Could I please have a beer?
Bar Tender: No Problem.

Ofcourse there shouldn't be a problem considering this is a bar
Or why should there be a problem gettin' a beer at the bar

Y'all get what I am sayin'?
Signature: Ruffraggedyraw

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Jul 13, 2006 10:52 pm

You might say, "Yes, thank you, just a beer."

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by russcable » Thu Jul 13, 2006 10:54 pm

From the other side, why has the customer just begged someone to perform their most basic job function? No wonder the bartender wants to reassure the customer that it's not putting him out to be asked for a beer. It's hard to serve people who are cowering in the corner. (^_^)
Maybe if he says "pretty pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top", the bartender will even put it in a glass for him.

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jul 14, 2006 2:36 pm

"Could I please have a beer in a glass set now in front of me on the bar, as I have money to pay for it, and am willing to sign a waiver lest I crash my car on the way home, and here, have a look at my driver's license (and, of course, thank you, in advance)?

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by Slateman » Fri Jul 21, 2006 4:03 am

May I please have a beer or could I please have a beer... Hmmm, I feel as if I'm back in middle school... lol

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by RWalter » Fri Jul 21, 2006 5:12 am

Message on a T-shirt:

I don't have a drinking problem!

I drink -
I fall down -

No problem!

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by kagriffy » Fri Jul 21, 2006 11:35 am

They served beer at your middle school, Slateman? Must have been a very progressive middle school.
K. Allen Griffy
Springfield, Illinois (USA)

Use of the phrase "No Problem"

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jul 21, 2006 12:14 pm

It was the counterpart of the Teachers whisky.
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welcome vs no problem

Post by Quoc » Wed May 16, 2007 4:59 pm

[Fourth grouping question -- Forum Moderator]


Pls tell me the difference in meaning between:

1/ You are welcome.
b/ No problems.

Are they interchangeable?


welcome vs no problem

Post by trolley » Wed May 16, 2007 6:57 pm

It's funny that this should come up. I was just thinking about this the other day. The phrase "no problem" is, certainly, being used interchangably with "your welcome" and it drives me crazy. Telling me that I haven't caused you a problem is not the same as telling me that I am welcome. When I thank a shop keeper after I have purchased something from him, I don't need to be reassured that I haven't caused him some kind of hardship by patronizing his establishment. Somehow, that sounds to me like "it doesn't matter to me, one way or the other." It strikes me as being dismissive and not very welcome.

welcome vs no problem

Post by dalehileman » Wed May 16, 2007 7:18 pm

Q: trolley is right on the track. "No problem" is used to mean I was happy to comply with your request and it caused me little inconvenience

welcome vs no problem

Post by russcable » Wed May 16, 2007 7:35 pm

"You're welcome" and "No problem" (no s) are standard replies to "Thank you". "No problem" is much less formal - a book on etiquette would not say they are interchangeable. Try not to pay attention to the people who are trying to force logic onto formulaic language. "You're welcome" basically implies the same thing - You don't owe me anything, you're welcome to have whatever it is for free. It can't be very valuable to me if I'm giving it away. Some less common options are "Think nothing of it", "It's nothing" (often heard in Spanish as "de nada"), "Forget about it", or if you're Crocodile Dundee (Australian stereo-type) "No worries, mate!"

"No problem" and "no worries" also have another use as an affirmative answer, e.g. "Can you do this by Friday". "No problem". There it would make no sense to say "Thank you".

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