15 June 2012

Linguistic Longings

Welcome back. Permit me to step away from the lighter issues I normally write about to address what some might consider indicators of a failing society. Cutting to the chase, I’m troubled because, in American English, (1) “mom” is replacing “mother” and, worse, (2) “no problem” is replacing “you’re welcome.” 
Concerns such as these keep me awake at night, or they would keep me awake if I didn’t fall asleep so quickly.
“Mother” or “Mom”
The first time I heard an adult say, “My mom…” was during a staff meeting. Although that meeting was held in the mid-1980s, I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. Why, I wondered, did he use such a personal or juvenile term? 
My brother and I called our mother “mom” or “ma.” When we were young, “ma” was generally expressed, “maaaa.” When speaking about her to anyone besides our father (“dad,” I suppose), we would always refer to her as “mother.” 
Warren (L) and family--“mother” and “father” to you.

Put it this way, when I was young, nobody I grew up with, perhaps no one in the entire United States, would ever say “my mom” or “your mom” or “mom” to anyone above the age of approximately five. (This does allow for residents of Alaska and Hawaii, neither of which was yet a state.)

I asked our son and his friends about this change. They opined that “mother” is much too formal. That suggests the friends I grew up with thought my mother was too formal. Nope. Never happened. She would squirt them with a seltzer bottle just as quickly as she would squirt me.

I’ve seen statements differentiating the two terms: “mother” gave birth to you; “mom” raised you. Oh, please! Save these sappy definitions for greeting cards (not Tulip Fantasy cards of course). Anyway, I’m sure there were moments our mom wished our mother hadn’t given birth to us.

“You’re Welcome” or “No Problem”

Regarding my second concern, I cannot remember the first time my “thank you” drew a “no problem” response. Years before I retired, instant messages at work were already using “np.” No doubt you’ve experienced it and are aware that it’s becoming more and more common.

Don’t think there hasn’t been resistance, at times hostile. Unlike mother versus mom, discussion regarding the propriety of “no problem” is peppered across the Internet, going back at least five years, probably much longer. If you search, you’ll find pros and cons, whys and who cares, the relative newness of “you’re welcome”--as if that mattered--and comparisons with other languages.

Comparing to other languages isn’t very convincing when “no-problem” defenders point to “de nada,” the usual Spanish response to gracias (thank you). De nada is more equivalent to “for nothing” or “think nothing of it.” Wouldn’t that sound much nicer than “no problem,” especially in a Spanish accent?

Wrap Up
Am I too late? It seems that mom has already replaced mother, and I suspect the argument about “no problem” won’t be won or lost; the change will just occur. Linguistic change is inevitable, whether it’s vocabulary, sentence structure or pronunciations (www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/change.jsp). 
If “you’re welcome” has become too formal, at least for those with moms, I’d better find something else that would keep me up at night; you know, if I didn’t fall asleep so quickly.
Thanks for stopping by. (Please respond, “You’re welcome” or “De nada.”)


  1. The third one I'd add to the list:
    "Would you like to have ?"
    "It's OK."


  2. I just finished today's topic on sensory mapping thinking - again - where does he come up with this stuff? Glancing at the adjacent list of past writings I noticed, for the first time, "no problem" at the top. I'd never given it much thought until about a year ago I ran across one of those internet pepperings on the matter. This writer was also annoyed by its prevalence, especially as used in response to a request. Who cares, he mused, whether what he asked was a problem for the requestee? In fact, it might just be a problem. Too insurmountable a problem should cause the person to decline, if able. In a superior/subordinate situation that may not be an option. In any case the person should acknowledge compliance or refusal and dispense with whether its troublesome or not.