What happened to the expressions we once used, expressions that made sense? For years, when people wanted to indicate that they were disinterested in something or didn’t care about something, they would say, “I couldn’t care less.” That expression made perfect sense. The implication was that one could not possibly care less because he didn’t care at all. Over time, that changed and people began to say, “I could care less,” which means that, to a degree, that person does care!
It was not so long ago that when somebody wanted to excuse another person for a minor offense, and indicate that it was OK, he would say, “no problem.” But English is a living language, with words and expressions changing all the time. Today, when one wants to let a person know that he or she is excused for saying or doing something, he says “no worries.” What is that all about? It’s inaccurate. Who has no worries? Probably nobody! A reasonable remark to let somebody “off the hook” for an infraction would be, “Don’t worry about it.” But “no worries” is the new expression.
That phrase does not work for me because I do have worries. We all do. Unfortunately, I take it to an extreme because I am a natural-born worrier. Chances are it is hereditary because my mother worried about everyone and everything. The list of things that worry me is a long one, so when somebody tells me “no worries,” I want to laugh. If I make a misstep or misspeak and somebody says “no problem,” I feel better about what I said or did. Worries and problems are not the same thing.
Everyone has a problem occasionally. I had one just this morning while I was in the supermarket searching for a certain cracker. Two stock boys were in the aisle, so, when I couldn’t find the cracker I was looking for, I asked one of them for help. He gave me what can best be described as a blank look. I not only mentioned the name of the cracker, but, because it was clear that English was not his first language, I spelled it for him. I need not have bothered because he was paying no attention to me. He was busy stocking another shelf and never looked up or offered to help me search for the item I wanted.
Persistence being one of my well-known traits, I stood there, refusing to move, until I got a response. It took some time but eventually he mumbled something that sounded like, “We don’t have it.” He didn’t say that the store was out of it, nor did he say if they had ever had it at all or if they would ever have it again. This fellow was a man of few words — but only when he was talking to me. When he was chatting in his native tongue to the other stock boy, he was a regular Chatty Kathy! Clearly, he was not interested in helping me. Frustrated, I left the aisle and continued shopping for the remainder of the items on my list.
But it was a problem for me. I was bothered because I was reasonably sure that the crackers I wanted were there, somewhere. They are always there, squeezed in among the many other crackers in that aisle. So as I was making my way to the register to check out, I made a detour and walked down that same aisle again. Sure enough, the second time around I spotted the bag of crackers I was looking for. As it happened, today they were situated on the bottom shelf, which was directly opposite where that stock boy had been sitting as he was stocking a bottom shelf across the aisle. What I had asked for was right there, at eye level for him. That was a problem for me! It was not a worry but a problem.
I yanked a bag of the crackers off the shelf and all but shoved it in front of his face as I said, “Ten minutes ago I asked you for these, but you didn’t bother to look, and now here they are! Did they just fly into the store?”
To my consternation, he didn’t even blink or acknowledge having heard me. What he did was give a shrug as if to say, “So what, lady.” He was as disinterested as he had been when I had first asked him for help. He probably figured that I had found the crackers after all, so why didn’t I just take them and leave?
I was sorely tempted to report his behavior to the store manager. But I didn’t do it. Despite his laziness and arrogance, my compassion kicked in when I considered how young he is and that he probably needs the job. So I let it go. He might have received just a simple reprimand from one of his bosses, but I couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t get fired, and I didn’t want him to lose his job.
While I felt good about my decision to say nothing, the encounter frustrated me and was my problem of the moment. It was not a worry, but it was a problem.
It is my hope that if I should mess up by saying or doing the wrong thing, somebody will be kind enough to say “no problem” or “don’t worry about it.” But I don’t want to hear “no worries.” Am I being picky about semantics? Maybe! But that’s the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.