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How “no worries” infected American English

March 28, 2014
March 28, 2014

The handy Australianism “no worries”—usually used in place of “you’re welcome”—has been burrowing deeper into the heart of American English.

According to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, a free, 450-million word trove assembled by Brigham Young University’s Mark Davies, the phrase has been popping up in stateside lingo with increasing regularity. Usage of the phrase rose to 1.5 per million words in 2011. Usage-of-no-worries-per-million-words-Usage-of-no-worries-per-million-words_chartbuilderFor the record, a full-fledged Aussie assault was never really a possibility. Usage of “you’re welcome” continues to trounces “no worries,” appearing nearly 217 times per million words. But it’s an impressive climb for an idiosyncratic phrase that isn’t even that old in Australia.

The OED first notes usage of  “no worries” or “no worry” in Sydney in 1965, when someone made this unassailably true declaration about the restorative powers of beer-drinking:

“No worry … it’s amazing what a few schooners of jolly does for a bloke.”

Just how the phrase washed up stateside, nobody knows. One theory is that California-based surfers were likely the first to embrace it after encounters with antipodeans in Oz or elsewhere.  (There’s a rich history of slang exchange among international wave riders.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 3.32.12 PM

But it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the phrase made a splash in the US. Google’s n-gram viewer (above) allows people to trawl for phrases in the search giant’s massive database of scanned books. And “no worries” clearly got a bump around then thanks to this guy.

Crocodile Dundee was a serious box office hit in 1986, when the Paul Hogan flick was the second best-grossing film behind Top Gun. “Hogan’s catchphrase was ‘No worries, mate.’ The wide appeal of those movies made the phrase something of a vogue expression,” wrote Bryan Garner is his American Usage.

While we’re on the topic of movies, the full-length musical number “Hakuna Matata” in Disney’s 1994 animated feature The Lion King, normalized “no worries” for an entire generation of US kids. (One can’t help but wonder if the Swahili phrase, which translates into “no worries,” might have been picked up by Aussies on a surfing safari in Africa a long time ago.) At any rate, usage of the phrase got another bump in the 1990s.  And more recently, American broadcasters covering the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000 took to sprinkling it into their commentary, popularizing it further.

It’s impossible to say if “no worries” will continue to gain traction in the US. But it’s clearly a catchy and useful scrap of language.

As a result, countries with plenty of exposure to Australians tend to pick it up.

In fact, according to a separate corpus of Web-based English from around the world, suggests “no worries” might be used more heavily in Singapore and Malaysia than it is in Australia and New Zealand.

Who-uses-no-worries-the-most-Appearances-of-no-worries-per-1-million-words_chartbuilder

 

Thanks to Vocabulary.com’s Ben Zimmer for helping me track down data from the pertinent corpora.

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