Want to know which c-words are fast-disappearing from public life? No, not Covid, although perhaps very nearly. I’m talking about composure, courtesy, civility and context. They are all being swept away by “cancel culture” – an oxymoron if ever there were one. The latest target is the happy-go-lucky phrase “no worries”, which has been banned by a leading American university. In the excruciatingly literal world of the woke, saying “no worries” is regarded as – wait for it, no word of a lie – an insensitive negation of the listener’s feelings.
Lake Superior State University in Michigan, which compiles an annual list of proscribed terms, states that “no worries” belongs near the top because, as one monstrously solipsistic contributor explained, “If I’m not worried, I don’t want anyone telling me not to worry. If I am upset, I want to discuss being upset.”
Strewth. In and of itself, “no worries” is a fundamentally optimistic, sunny-side-up phrase imported from a sunny-side-up kind of place: Australia. Why must even this set off the wokesters? I can only think it is because it goes against their utterly pessimistic world view. We hear “Australia” and think of snorkelling and beaches. They hear it and become instantly enraged over the effect of high sun protection factor on the coral reefs. Everything sets them off.
Now, I admit that it would be a troubling term to hear in a solicitor’s office or coming from the mouth of a hospital consultant, but generally speaking it is nothing more than an informal alternative to “that won’t be a problem”, “your MRI scan is clear” or perhaps even, “this might be problematic but I am willing to deal with it discreetly”.
My instinct is that professional settings where one’s health, wealth or liberty are at stake are not suited to the lingua franca of coffee shops and other casual venues. But otherwise, why not?
On public transport, “no worries” has a rather jaunty ring. It veritably sings can-do reassurance down at the garage. It’s even perfectly acceptable in Returns and Exchanges as long as it’s accompanied by a smile and anxiety-free customer service.
It’s an entirely harmless, if banal, addition to our lexicon, and as language is constantly evolving, surely usage is sovereign? Apart from the correct application of apostrophes, obviously, which are sacred totems of our identity and must be defended at all costs for all of eternity.
Central to my “no worries” worries is the fact that universities are supposed to educate and mould future leaders and opinion builders, challenging them to innovate and foster change. Instead they are creating a cohort of thin-skinned hyper-vigilantes – not just in the US but on home turf, too – conditioned to take everything so personally and so seriously that they perceive slights and injuries where none were intended and equate “safety” with the totalitarian curtailment of free speech.
Banning words and phrases is seldom a sign of progress, although I’m pleased to note the enraging “cheer up love, it might never happen” refrain once so beloved of British builders has withered away, possibly due to women like me yelling dog’s abuse up into the scaffolding.
I had no idea that generalised chirpiness and unwarranted buoyancy could hurt young people’s feelings. And so to them I have just one reply: no worries.