“No worries”

In last week’s run-up to Thanksgiving, I wrote a post for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Lingua Franca blog about the proliferating ways of saying you’re welcome. I focused on the eminently annoying Not a problem! and No worries!, the latter of which has periodically been suggested as an NOOB.

I have always resisted. Not because it isn’t popular in the U.S.; indeed, it is nearly inescapable. Rather, because it’s not a Britishism but an Australianism. According to Wikipedia: “‘No worries’ was referred to as ‘the national motto’ of Australia in 1978, and in their 2006 work, Diving the World, Beth and Shaun Tierney call ‘no worries, mate’ the national motto of the country.

But looking into the matter I see that the the phrase itself has deep British roots. The Times used it 463 times between 1785 and 1985–for example, in the 1970 headline NO WORRIES FOR CELTIC. The Aussie innovation–now picked up in the U.S., with a vengeance–may have been to isolate the two words as a response to thank you or I’m sorry.

19 thoughts on ““No worries”

  1. I’m not too sure that ‘no worries’ is actually an Australianism (or maybe it is when construed as being in English). ‘No worries’ was (and still is) a Hong Kong catchphrase/colloquialism, and it’s heard a lot in a business setting. The Cantonese have long been particularly known and identifiable even among Chinese people for their characteristic phrase ‘mo munn tai’ (‘no problem’ a.k.a. ‘no worries’) – certainly for more than a hundred years.

    I can’t vouch for this, other than to say that my dad (a Shanghailander) told me the Australian and New Zealand lawyers in the employ of the Hong Kong government picked up and translated the Cantonese phrase, and that was how the UK lawyers broadly identified the Aussie/Kiwi lawyers (the latter being an educated lot therefore had less of an Aussie or Kiwi accent, if you see what I mean). The British lawyers sniffed at taking up such a localese, mainly because British lawyers tend to live less away from the local Cantonese than did the Aussies and Kiwis.

    All that, of course, was sometime between 1945 and the 1970s. Even back in the 1960s and 70s in UK, I hardly ever heard ‘no worries’ from the local Briitsh people, and only got to hear it from Aussies and New Zealanders – until the late 1970s or early 1980s when Australia really did the British in with their cricketing skills, and then the newspaper sports pages started using it en masse – most certainly more than 463 times, even according to my fading memory.

    Having said that, I personally gritted my teeth on a daily basis at “you’re welcome” when my folks and I were living in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, not so much at the words “you’re welcome” but the frequency it was said almost automatically – until a Spanish-sounding gentlemen responded in the peculiarly English “thank you same” a few weeks before we left good ole’ USA.

  2. I first became aware of “no worries” when I visited Australia about 25 years ago. I never heard it in the US growing up, but now I hear it frequently.

  3. wait until you hear “no wuckers” … sometimes abbreviated to “wuckers”. you probably won’t since that’s mostly a very broad Australianism that died out in the 1980s but most Aussies will still understand it. It’s an abbreviation of “no wucking furries” (rhyme furries with worries) which is a transformation of “no f–king worries”.

  4. We say this often in Southern California now, from LA to San Diego. I assumed it was a Britishism. Although I believe the Aussie detour and have heard them say that here, there currently is much much more of a British influence in the states than Australian (sorry Austrailian friends). I have to therefore assume it bled over from the UK rather than than from there, especially since it’s more frequently used by the younger demographic.

    The stock response that used to be used (all the time on the East Coast) was, “No problem.” No Worries is much more Zen-like, so maybe that’s the appea here, heh.

  5. My father (British, as am I) brought the phrase “no ha problema” back from his business travels in the 1960s and it became a catch-phrase in our family, elided as the original speakers apparently do, to sound like “nao problem” (it was only recently I checked the correct spelling/pronunciation). It’s Mocambiquean Portuguese. Probably one of many threads of the “no problem/no worries” genealogy, but worth recording, I think.

  6. According to an Aussie journalist I spoke with at a contact-centre-technology conference (as part of a discussion among several of us about voice-recognition and the various spoken phrases signalling the end of a conversation) there is a taxi service in Sydney whose machine recognises the phrase “no wuckin’ furries”.

  7. Reminds me – I read a while ago about someone ringing Telstra (our national telco) and let fly with a string of expletives to the “automated voice” service. There was a pause, and the service responded “Let’s see – you want complaints – is that right?”.

    They must have had fun programming that!

  8. Not a Briticism, but an incredibly common ‘Scoticism’ (and in Geordie and all) is ‘no bother’ (frequently, ‘nae’ or ‘nee’ bother respectively but that’s by the by).

  9. I’m Australian and admit to using “no worries” all the time. I found it off-putting when I lived in the US (and I admit, before I thought about it more, kind of rude) that when I’d say thank-you (for example, when someone picked up something I dropped or held a door) Americans would say “mmm-hmmm” or “uh-huh”. It’s polite to say “no-worries” or “no-problems” and therefore to acknowledge a thank-you, at least in Australia. This was a strange cultural difference that I didn’t expect!

  10. Hi this guy I like I told him hopefully we can catch up when I get back from holidays he said no worries nina what did he mean iam confused

  11. I once read advice that recommended against the use of the phrase “no problem” on the wonderfully disdainful grounds that its use is “insufferable insouciance”.

    I wish I could remember who wrote it.

    1. I first heard “no biggie” from a Temple University undergraduate in 1986, in Philadelphia. Can John or anyone else offer an earlier use?

  12. No worries, if it means something like “no problem” in response to someone saying “Thank You” connotes that it’s something like “ no skin off my back”. What happened to being even more gracious and creating closure to the conversation string with a simple “You’re welcome”, which rings of the same intent as the response to the Spanish “Gracias” (Thank You) being “El Gusto es mio” which (cavalierly) translates as “the pleasure is mine!” There is no doubt that you were actively happy to do a service instead of passively assenting to having performed a deed or suffered to do a task for someone.
    Thanks for listening!

    1. It now occurs to me that the recent popularity of No Worries in the US might derive from the lyrics to Hakuna Matata in The Lion King.

  13. ‘You’re welcome’ is certainly more British English than the more recent ‘no problem’ and ‘no worries’ which I always assumed spread here as result of American English influence. The most elegant British English however is ‘don’t mention it’ whose former eminence is vouched for by the Welsh near-equivalent ‘peidiwch â sôn’. My age permits me to testify that (in my experience) neither ‘no problem’ or ‘no worries’ were in use in 1970s and 1980s Britain.

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