First, Neal links an article on whether “no problem” is an acceptable substitute for “you’re welcome.” Personally, I have no problem with “no problem.” In fact, I think it’s often preferable to the somewhat stuffy “you’re welcome.” But it’s notable that the no-problem opponents’ chief complaint relates to the use of “no problem” in commercial contexts:
Many especially dislike hearing “no problem” in commercial transactions and from folks in customer service jobs, since, as the customer is always right, nothing a customer could ask for could ever be “a problem.” “I assume my business is not a problem,” huffed one complainer on the message boards at the Visual Thesaurus. Others on the Internet have taken the same tack: “Why would it be a problem? It’s her job, isn’t it?” and “It better damn well NOT be a problem, because I just gave you my money.”When a commercial transaction has just concluded, I have to agree that “no problem” is inappropriate -- but not for the reasons stated. “You’re welcome” would sound just as bad to me as “no problem” because, as I’ve observed before, the appropriate response to “thank you” in this context is “thank you.” Trade is a mutually beneficial transaction, in which both parties do something that benefits the other. In the context of a straight-up favor, on the other hand, the benefits travel in one direction only.
Second, Neal has a column at Visual Thesaurus on a subtle shift in the usage of “choice” by educators. Apparently it has become common practice to use the language of choice when describing behavior -- usually bad behavior -- by students. “Doug chose not to do his homework today,” for instance. Neal describes a movement from “free-choice choose” to “take-responsibility-for-your-own-behavior choose”:
Schoolchildren are told not to behave, but to make good choices, take responsibility for the choices they make, and accept the consequences that come with them. It's not that I didn't hear similar messages when I was in school: My senior English teacher had a poster that read, "There are neither rewards nor punishments; only consequences." But the way I hear that message in schools now, it's usually phrased with choose or choice. On a high school teacher's desk recently, I saw a sign reading, "Let the choices you make today be the choices you can live with tomorrow."Like Neal, I find this use of "choice" irksome, but I've been struggling to put a finger on why. After all, they're right: kids do make choices, and choices have consequences. Some choices lead to better consequences than others. What's wrong with saying that?
And I don't think it matters that some choices are clearly better than others. When people say, "I had no choice," that's often hyperbole. What they really mean is that some of their options sucked, so they went with the obviously best option. Nothing in the concept of choice requires all options to have similar value.
I think what bothers me about the new usage of "choice" is this: They're using the idea of choice to obscure the difference between natural consequences and deliberately imposed consequences. When you choose not to exercise, a natural consequence is that you'll get fat and have less energy. A deliberately imposed consequence is that your parent will dock your allowance, or your teacher will make you sit in the corner. Neal gets at this distinction when he says, “Only a few students are so cynical as to suggest that a choice between one alternative with a punishment attached and another without one is not really a choice.” I don’t agree that it’s not really a choice -- you really do have the option of taking the unpleasant alternative -- but I agree that an important distinction is being glossed over.
The failure to recognize the natural-vs-imposed distinction is potentially dangerous. It allows, for instance, a drug warrior to claim that the drug war respects freedom of choice. "You choose to take drugs, and you pay the price: going to jail." But just because you still have a choice doesn't mean your freedom of choice has been respected.