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The problem with no problem

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Houston, we have a problem.” Running out of oxygen 200,000 miles from earth? That’s a problem. Refilling your water glass at a restaurant? Not so much. So what’s the problem? Unless they ran out of water the problem is there is no problem. Our language has devolved to such an extent that we respond “no problem” to any mundane request that comes our way.

Maybe “you’re welcome” is out of date as a response to “thank you”. But “no problem”? Not a good answer. “No worries?” Even worse. I understand that language grows and changes over time which is probably why “thou” is not a part of my everyday vocabulary. But “no problem” is just plain lazy.

Should we “unpack that”? Not unless it’s a suitcase. Unpack has been appropriated, mostly by the media, as a poor substitute for “explain”. NPR, cable, and talking heads everywhere endlessly unpack issues for us when what we really need is an explanation.

And it doesn’t end there. Science and technology has contributed its fair share of words and expressions that we mindlessly repeat in our everyday chatter. “I’m not wired that way.” “I don’t have the bandwidth”. “It’s not in my DNA”. Are you telling me you’re uncomfortable with this; you’re not interested and you don’t have the time anyway?

And while we’re on the subject, do you know anyone who can accurately list their genetic makeup? Like lambs to the slaughter we have blindly adopted metonymies that are further and further away from the intended target. The “White House” for the President? “Hollywood” for the film industry? Probably ok. “Suits” for business executives? A little shaky. The suit is in danger of going the way of spats and a bowler hat.

Our culture has an almost unlimited tolerance for repurposing a word or phrase no matter how odious its origins. Hence, “scoring” drugs has given way to “scoring” tickets to a Broadway show.

I’m told I shouldn’t get worked up about this stuff. Exactly the wrong way to get me to back off. I’ve conceded that a virus can infect the digital world and that modern “trolls” don’t necessarily live under bridges, although I suspect some do. But “bad optics” is overused and don’t get me started on “woke”.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Is that too much to ask?

“No problem”.

Apparently it is.


M.A. Duca is a resident of Twin Lakes, narrowly focused on everyday life.

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