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Making an issue of it

01 Dec 2008 / in general stuff, going off on one

Why does everything these days have to be ‘an issue’? I hear news reporters talk about ‘terrorism issues’, I hear social commentators talk about ‘issues of poverty’, and health professionals talk about ‘mental health issues’.

In common English usage it can mean things as varied as a specific edition of a publication, someone’s child, or even semen. Its vague and evasive modern use often means subject, item on the agenda, thing or matter and often is actually used to mean problem. The magazine The Big Issue uses this double entendre deliberately. But I think if you mean subject, you should say subject, if you mean item on the agenda, use item on the agenda and if you mean problem say problem. Then people know for sure what you mean.

Does it matter? I think it does, because when you’re only implying problems, you can be misunderstood. Or worse, people may infer a problem when they see the word issue when there isn’t one.

It’s not that issue should never be used – sometimes it is the best word. But the way people overuse it right now, it gets repetitive. People are either lazy and can’t be bothered to find the best word for the job, or think it sounds more businesslike (it doesn’t) or are being deliberately vague or gutless. Why not choose instead one of all the perfectly good and often more expressive words it replaces?

This is how Chamber’s defines it. Nowhere there does it say ‘a euphemism used by lazy people who can’t be arsed to say if it’s really a matter, a thing or a problem.’ Anyway, that’s enough of that issue.

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