Why ‘no problem’ is a problem

Rampant use of the popular catchphrase concerns this communicator.

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Houston, we have a problem. It’s no problem, a phrase comprising two negatives that’s meant as an affirmative.

No problem and its sister not a problem (the Australians have no worries, but that’s another story) have supplanted yes, you’re welcome, happy to help, OK, that’s fine, got it, here you go, and I can handle that for you. All of which are positives.

I relish being told yes, appreciate the good manners of a you’re welcome, am delighted when someone tells me he’s happy to help me out, am grateful for a simple OK, relax when I hear something’s fine, can move on to other things when I’m confident someone has gotten what he needs, am appreciative when I’ve gotten what I need, and am relieved when I finally reach the person who can indeed handle my problem.

But tell me no problem and I instantly have one. That’s because you’ve started out by saying no, making my system shudder, and then you compound matters with the word problem, which downright rattles me.

“I’d like a large pizza for take-out.”

“No problem!”

“With pepperoni and mushrooms.”

“No problem! Is that it?”

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