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Rance Crain

Rance Crain Has a Problem With ‘No Problem,’ and He’s Not Alone

Oct 2, 2017

I’ve always found it a little annoying and self-righteous when people say “No problem” to me after I thank them for some service they’ve rendered. “Why should there be a problem?” I usually gripe to myself or to who’s ever with me. Whatever happened to a heartfelt and appreciative “You’re welcome”?

So it was with great interest (and relief) to find out that someone else was bothered by the oftentimes smug response. Writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, Greg Opelka, a musical theater composer-lyricist, explained: “There’s an implicit, albeit unintentional, condescension in the ‘No problem’ comeback. As if to say, ‘You’re interrupting my busy life, but I’ll make a little time for you because I’m just that magnanimous.’ Not to mention, it’s negative.”

Not to mention it implies the person really thinks there is a problem. Despite his or her graciousness in denying any inconvenience, the term is nevertheless framed using language implying there was at least the possibility of disruption. A problem — or lack thereof — suggests things could be going more smoothly if only you hadn’t come along. In other words, there could have been a problem, but he or she handled it before it escalated into one.

I’ve also noticed that more men than women are couching their response in problematic terms. Men, I theorize, feel they’re more entitled to recognize and defuse a potential problem. Women don’t see the situation as a problem: They’re just happy that you recognize them for doing a good job.

As Mr. Opelka points out, “You’re welcome” is the “picture of sunny benevolence. More than a mere affirmation (‘You are well come!’), it’s an invitation. Where ‘No problem’ hustles you out the back door, ‘You’re welcome’ opens its big, wide friendly arms and says: ‘Stay!'”

And since you put it like that, don’t mind if I do.

Rance Crain is the former president of Crain Communicatons and former editor-in-chief of both Advertising Age and Crain’s New York Business. In 1982 he created Electronic Media, a trade magazine that, in 2003, he renamed TVWeek. In 2015 TVWeek was sold to Dexter Canfield Media Inc. In July 2017, Mr. Crain sold his interest in Crain Communications to his brother, Keith Crain. The company had been started by their father in 1916.

11 Comments

  1. I agree completely with you, Mr. Crain. You say “thank you” to a waitress or waiter, and their response is the ubiquitous ‘no problem.’ Whatever happened to ‘You’re welcome”?

    Not to mention when you are in a restaurant and one of these minions comes up and says “Hi guys, how ya doin’?” In mixed company no less.

  2. Mr. Crain, I am also in your corner on this one. I have been taken aback by the “no problem” response which has become somewhat of a cottage industry of poor communication skills. Now if we could get the entire journalism industry to end the irritating practice of saying a person “went missing” or “had gone missing.” A person does not “go” missing. That suggests a deliberate action or intent to become missing. I would like to find the person who originates these phrases and sentence them to watch all 34 episodes of “My Mother, the Car” in a locked room.

  3. I first heard this phrase in the early 1980s when traveling through Europe and Eastern Europe. It was especially predominate with hotel managers, waiters and waitresses. Someone in our group who was familiar with the regions we were traveling said that this term was used by those who didn’t speak English. It was taught to them as a response to phrases such as “Thank you” and “I appreciate your help.” I’m not sure why they weren’t taught to say “You’re welcome”…maybe that was more difficult to pronounce to non-English speakers.

  4. I have been railing against this for decades. I did consider that maybe I am too sensitive when I realized that the Spanish response is “de nada (of nothing),” but my second thought was that is not on the same level of “no problem.”

  5. This strikes me as a truly ridiculous gripe especially in light of current events. One which is easily explained by generational linguistic preference “no problem” and “you’re welcome” mean the exact same thing to the people that use them. No problem = yes I helped you and it was not a problem. You’re welcome = yes I helped you but you are welcome. You are complaining over how someone who chose (because whether it was their job or not, to help anyone in any way is a choice) to help you is choosing to acknowledge your thanks? Really? If you were actually thankful wouldn’t you at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not intending to back handedly be rude but in fact being polite? Talk about rude…

  6. I have to say I agree with you. Although one might think “Whats the big deal?”, after hearing it so many times it is quite bothersome. I have to say that with all the recent events, it is nice to finally read something that isn’t about politics. Love the article, keep them coming!

  7. I completely agree- why respond to a polite “thank you” in such a negative matter?

  8. What a brilliant insight- I never thought of it that way! Hope to see many more posts from you.

  9. Sometimes the evolution of language is hard to witness. Heck I’m even annoyed by “log-in” turing into “login”. That being said saying “no problem” seems like a lost opportunity for a larger moment of grace. As one commenter states maybe we should be grateful for whatever grace we are offered, and not perceive something that’s meant to be positive as negative, regardless of execution. So perhaps I’ll just pay attention to what I say from now on, offer up a bigger “you’re so welcome” or something that catches the recipients attention and momentarily lightens their day. So thanks for the reminder to give a little extra when we can. As someone recently and wisely said to me recently, “you’ll never regret being kind.”

  10. Now if we could just get people to stop addressing women–especially older women–as “young lady” as though that is some kind of compliment. And speaking of compliments, please refrain from ending a nice comment with “for her/his age.” If you have something nice to say about a person, please just state it; don’t invalidate it with a qualifier.

  11. Analogy: someone asks you for a favor. You’re unable to furnish that favor, and explain that to the asker — without apologizing (which would be an unnecessary and inappropriate response). Asker replies with ‘No worries.’

    NO WORRIES? I’m not worried! YOU asked ME for something. It’s a really crappy linguistic crutch. That is all.

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