No sweat, sarge

Q: When I was in the US Army in Germany from 1955 to 1957, the expression “no sweat”  became institutionalized in many units as an informal response to a request. So we might respond to an order by saying “No sweat, sarge,” or even “No, sweat, sir” to an officer. I’ve wondered if this was a precursor to the widespread use of “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.”

A: Did “no problem” develop from “no sweat”?

Well, the “no problem” usage we’re talking about showed up in print in 1955, a few years after “no sweat” appeared, according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

So the timing is right. But we haven’t found any research that would show a relationship. And the existence of foreign phrases similar to “no problem” seems to make that origin unlikely.

The OED describes “no sweat” as a colloquial expression (one better suited to speech than to writing) that means “(it is) no trouble, (there is) no difficulty.”

The dictionary doesn’t say the phrase originated in the military, but the first citation is from E. J. Kahn’s The Peculiar War: Impressions of a Reporter in Korea (1951): “There’s no sweat. We’ve got plenty of time and territory.”

By the way, phrases that combine “no” with a noun (like “no sweat” and “no problem”) are thick on the ground.

The OED also has citations for “no bother,” “no comment,” “no deal,” “no dice,” “no fear,” “no luck,” “no mistake” (as in “make no mistake”), “no probs,” “no shit,” “no strings,” “no way,” and “no worries,” among others.

Many people have written us to complain about the use of “no problem” as a response to “thank you.” In fact, we’ve written two blog items about this, in 2008 and 2009.

If the usage bugs you, our advice is to hope it will eventually go away. In the meantime, don’t sweat it.

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