“No problem,” he said, as he emerged from the alligator-infested river. “No problem,” he said, as he slaughtered half a tribe of natives. “No problem,” said the hangman, as he yanked the lever to hang the man—but not for slaughtering the tribe. It was for saying “no problem” for the thousandth time in one paragraph.
In the realm of language fads, enhanced by the viral spread of the worst of clichés, the ubiquitous “no problem” takes its perch alongside “niche marketing,” which is really old-fashioned market segmentation, and “branding,” which is simply name recognition and (in products, at least, but not in professional service firms) a promise of consistent quality, taste and performance (which is really impossible in legal and accounting practice).
“Sort of …”
Unfortunately, there are advantages to these language drears and myriad similar clichés. They are shortcuts through the brambles of clear thought and expression. But in point of fact, they are the enemies of articulate and truly expressive conversation and other communications. They are in the realm of that other pointless and obnoxious expression, “sort of….”
The use of “like” in every sentence as a substitute for the traditional “er …” was bad enough, although it had its occasional charm (as in, “It was like, WOW”). But “sort of” has a different insidious effect on serious communication.
“Sort of,” placed before every verb, seems to imply a reluctance of veracity—a qualification and uncertainty. Used with its current frequency, it gives no validity to the point of the expression. It’s like ending a sentence with a rising inflection, as in a question. It says “I don’t really mean what I’m saying,” or “I’m not sure that what I’m saying is true.” It’s as if the speaker was saying, “It’s sort of raining (rising inflection, as if it were a question)” in the middle of a heavy rainstorm.
Unless you’re a writer, or an articulate speaker who speaks in whole and cohesive sentences, this could be perceived as quibbling. But even if you are quibbling, it can rubble the ears. Sort of. And if you want to hang the speaker or writer who uses these mindless speech gimmicks, well, hey, for me? It’s like, no problem.
Bruce W. Marcus is the author of Professional Services Marketing 3.0 and co-author of Client at the Core.