Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say

A commentary included in this week’s episode of CBS Sunday Morning struck an unexpected chord with me.  It concerned the phenomenon of 20 and 30-somethings replying to others’ requests with the phrase “no problem”.  I’m certainly guilty of this particular crime of verbiage, and I’m sure that many of you are, too.  “No problem” has become such a commonplace response that I would never have given its use a second thought, much less others’ reactions to it.  However, now that the phrase’s interpretation, particularly by those older than myself, has been brought to my attention, I doubt that I’ll use it anymore.  The commentator argued that by replying “no problem” to someone’s request, said request would somehow be troubling the person who said it.  Truthfully, this is rarely the case: if one is working as a server in a restaurant and a customer asks for a glass of water, it shouldn’t be a problem for the server to find a glass, fill it with ice and water, and bring it to the requesting customer.  Serving the customer is what the server is being paid to do, after all.  The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the commentator.  Most requests aren’t problems at all, so replying that the request is not, in fact, a problem, isn’t altogether appropriate.  I could clearly see where he was coming from, but, being a member of the offending generation, I could also understand the counterargument.

I realize that “no problem” isn’t the only phrase that is running rampant and causing ire.  “No worries”, a saying once almost solely associated with worry-free beach-goers, has found its way into the common vernacular.  I occasionally use it, and it consistently drives my dad crazy.  Like “no problem”, I appreciate that one’s intention of conveying laid-back understanding may be interpretted by another as the former individual may not be taking a situation seriously.  “You got it”, “sure thing”, and “you bet” are capable of causing similar annoyance.  I don’t think that younger individuals are actively trying to put off their elders.  It could simply be a generational difference or a sign of the inevitable evolution of language.  Either way, it’s food for thought and a matter worth considering.

As of late, I’ve been working to become increasingly cognizant of the way I communicate with others, particularly my friends.  None of us work together, and the majority of our day-to-day conversation is conveyed through text messages.  By now, most everyone is more than aware of the problems that misinterpreted texts can and have caused.  Texting is largely blamed for the utilization of proper grammar becoming a thing of the past, and due to these miniaturized messages, there’s an acronym for everything.  If we’re willing to work at it, then I don’t think that it’s too late to remedy the situation.  The remedy will likely take a few more seconds and keystrokes, but doing so may well eliminate a few future autocorrect-induced tiff.

The ease of text messaging means that conversations are often stretched out over hours, if not days, without clear delineations between the end of one conversation and the beginning of another.  “Hello” and “good-bye” aren’t always included, so they can’t mark starts and finishes.  It disappoints me a little bit when I receive a text message first thing in the morning, and the sender immediately jumps into his/her question.  What ever happened to “good morning”?  Are salutations a dying concept?  Worse yet, are they becoming little more than a buffer for bad news?  More and more frequently, I’ve noticed that if I receive an unsolicited text message in the middle of the day, and it begins with “Hi!”, whatever follows will likely be disappointing.  I know what a text message “hi!” means: it means someone is making an attempt to console me with an unexpected greeting (and an unnecessary exclamation point) when she knows I’ll not like whatever she has to say next.  The simple “hello” deserves better than this.

What with the deterioration of the use of proper pronunciation, profanities slipping in to everyday diction, and the fact that people actually say “OMG” aloud, I could go on and on with my grievances about the direction our language it headed in.  That seems superfluous, though, and I think that I’ve already gotten my point across.  It’s not my intention to sound old-fashioned by thinking that the tools of written and verbal communication are rules to be respected, nor to come across as though I’m not taking a matter seriously by replying with casual response.  The truth of the matter is that we live in an age where fewer and fewer people are wearing suits to work and when people can speak face to face while being miles apart.  The times, they are a-changin’.  However, change is a gradual and doesn’t happen overnight.  We’re constantly stuck in the balance between the way things were and the way they used to be.  I think that the best that we can do is to roll with the punches.  When it comes to language, for the sakes of both clarity and courtesy, this means both learning new habits and incorporating a more vintage practices.  Yes, it’s a little extra effort, but compared to having a full-on generational language barrier, it’s no problem, right?

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