In college, I took a semester of ancient Greek. Being a very right-brained individual, learning new languages is very difficult for me, so despite studying like crazy and actually feeling like I knew what I was doing going into each and every test, I managed only a D in the class.
Despite my poor performance and struggle, I loved that class. The professor was a language connoisseur (if they exist) and he often stopped lessons on speaking and writing the language to point out how certain words and phrases from that dead language wound up as words and phrases in modern American English.
The evolution from the ancient Greek to the modern English fascinated me and still does. It had to go through Latin and Germanic languages on the way, among others, but here we are. And even here, English is not a static language spoken uniformly around the world. England, Australia and Canada speak a different English than we do here in America. It’s all close enough that we can understand each other and communicate, but different enough that one can distinguish another’s origin based on how that person speaks the same language.
Even spelling is a pretty much modern invention. Back in the day, people spelled words the way the words sounded to the people writing them. There was no “correct” spelling. As a writer, I’m certainly glad that got worked out. But the rest? The language? It’s evolving in front of us. And I love it.
Other people, though, don’t so much. And those people complain. And complain. And complain.
I think the complaint that amuses me the most is the people (mostly middle-aged and older) who get angry when they say “thank you” to someone and receive in return not a “you’re welcome,” but “no problem.” Oh, the vitriol that can bring.
The logic is that the phrase “no problem” assumes the speaker (generally the complaint is about someone in the customer service field) did something completely out of his or her way and that it was, in fact, a problem. Or something like that. I try to follow the logic, but since I have no issues with the phrase, it’s tough to empathize.
Two weeks ago, I had a moment to revisit the little bit of Spanish I remember from my four years of high school classes and two semesters in college. In Spanish, the phrase that translates to “you’re welcome” in English is “de nada.” Bu the literal translation of de nada is “of nothing.” Take that a couple steps further through “it was nothing” to “no problem.” Spanish is much closer to Latin than English is, so I’ll take the Spanish as a better representation of the true intention of the phrase and say that “no problem” is actually a more correct response than “you’re welcome.”
So, please, don’t tell me “you’re welcome” to my “thank you.” I may just have to be offended otherwise.