As a remote worker, I get to know a lot of my coworkers by chatting with them on Slack. (It makes those years of using AIM feel like job training. Or at least I like to rationalize it that way!) As a result, I have a lot of conversations that go something like this:
- Coworker: Rachel, I’m dealing with [this tricky issue]. Can you help me sort it out?
- Me: Sure! You can learn more about that in [one of our knowledge bases] or try [this solution I’ve learned from experience].
- Coworker: Thanks!
- Me: [insert appropriate phrase for accepting thanks here]
The first part of the conversation is the easiest, really. It’s the part where I’m thinking and researching and teaching and guiding. It’s in the last part, where I have to figure out how to accept the thanks, that I overthink it. Why? Because I can never, ever decide if I should say, “No problem,” or “You’re welcome.” (Or sometimes just a quick “Sure thing!”)
This internal struggle was highlighted when I read the conversation about “No problem” vs. “you’re welcome” on All Things Linguistic, and even more when I got to the article on You’re welcome on Separated by a common language (a blog that compares American and British English). The basic issue is a divide between people who find “You’re welcome” acceptable and “No problem” rude, and people for whom “No problem” is the most natural response and “You’re welcome” sounds sarcastic or over the top. Add to that cultural differences in how to accept thanks, and you’re headed for a minefield any time you help someone out.
I realized that I fall into the generation of speakers who prefers “No problem,” although I try to avoid it in a lot of situations out of fear that I’ll be seen as rude or dismissive. I actually had to make a conscious decision to start using the phrase “You’re welcome” both online and offline, after I realized my habits could be offending people. That said, if you’re going to pick apart the meaning behind the words, I’d argue there isn’t a big difference between “No problem” and the ever-so-polite “It was no trouble at all.” (The latter is the sort of phrase that feels so proper I pull out a silly fake British accent as I say it, until I remember where I live and swallow the words before they can come out of my mouth.)
I could go on for ages with the intellectual exercise, mulling over the various ways everyone accepts thanks. At some point, though, I have to stop thinking and type out a reply to my coworker (because nothing feels as rude as an answered “thank you”). How do I do it? I’ve decided to try to use “You’re welcome” as much as possible, as a sort of standard polite American English response. But once I’ve done that a bit, or I’ve gotten to know the person I’m talking to, I’ll fall back to “No problem.” Or I’ll try to avoid the seriousness of the reply with a quick “yw” or “np” or — to avoid this dilemma altogether — just a quick thumbs up. 👍
Clive Thompson writes about the rise of subordinate clauses as complete thoughts in online writing like tweets and Facebook updates. You know, the ones that begin, “When you …” or “That moment when …”:
The point is, it’s up to you imagine the rest of the utterance. It’s like the author is handing you a little puzzle. Subordinate-clause tweets and Yik-Yak postings seduce us into filling out that missing info, McCulloch says. “Our brain has to work a little bit harder to figure out what it’s referring to, and so making that connection is very satisfying. It’s like getting a joke. You have to draw that connection for yourself a little bit — but because you can do it, it works really well.”
It’s not just a clever turn of phrase or a puzzle, either. It helps your readers identify with you (“Yes, I know just how you feel when that happens!”), it gets right to the point (useful for those 140-character witticisms), and perhaps most exciting, it paves the way for language change. Innovation can happen anywhere we’re experimenting and playing with language.
Read more: That Way We’re All Writing Now
When is lemonade not lemonade? When you’re an American in the UK.
When I think of lemonade, I think of a drink made from lemon juice and water, sweetened with sugar. I make it at home all the time. Half a lemon squeezed into a glass, a couple teaspoons of simple syrup, and water to fill it up.
So imagine my surprise when I ordered lemonade at a restaurant and ended up with something like 7 Up. I came home afterwards and consulted Wikipedia:
In the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, lemonade is a commercially-produced, lemon-flavored, carbonated, sweetened soft drink (similar to lemon-lime sodas in North America without the lime).
This post could also be titled, “How a language sounds when you barely know it.” If you’ve never spent time in a place where your native language isn’t spoken, try watching that video and imagining that everyone around you is talking like that.
This video reminds me of how German sounded to me when I was first learning it … or even how it sometimes sounds to me now. (Sigh.) I’ve spent my entire life learning languages, and I’ve lived abroad before, but I never had so much empathy for non-native English speakers in the US as I did after moving here. It’s so hard to move to a new country and start learning a new language from scratch. Especially when you don’t particularly love that language. You study and listen and catch a familiar word here or there, but the rest just jumbles together incoherently.
It’s also interesting how languages have particular sounds that identify them. Walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, I can sometimes trick myself into thinking that I’m hearing English around me. But then an umlaut comes out and declares itself to be German! Likewise, I can be surrounded by German speakers and then, across the sounds of the crowd around me, hear the rolling lilt of Spanish. Even when I can’t hear the words, I recognize the sound of it.
And so, with that idea in mind, you might enjoy the song “Prisencolinensinainciusol.” It’s complete gibberish that’s meant to mimic the sounds of American English — and it’s also a bit more light-hearted and entertaining: