Posted by: episystechpubs | June 10, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Problems Are Not Issues

Over the years, I’ve heard comments and arguments about using the term issue to mean problem. I think it is because we like to couch the negative in a word that seems a little less dire, but issue and problem are not synonymous, so using them as synonyms is incorrect. I don’t have a solution to this dilemma, since I understand that as a client, I don’t want to hear about problems. (Of course, I don’t want to hear about issues, either, especially when I know that is a code word for problem.)

Anyway, this is thought-provoking article for you to consider. (Thanks, Mark W.)

From Everything Language and Grammar:

You Have Problems, Not Issues [KC – Ain’t that the truth?]

Somewhere, at some point over the recent past, someone decided that it was no longer acceptable for a person to say what he or she means; it was no longer acceptable to speak in precise, direct words. And what’s worse, someone, somewhere decided that we should all be offended when someone calls a problem a problem! Everything has to be translated into some sort of euphemism. I don’t really know why it started, but can we please stop referring to every problem as an issue?

An employee no longer has a problem keeping up with production; he has an issue. A child no longer has a problem behaving in class; she has an issue. A married couple in therapy no longer has problems in their marriage; they have issues.

Even bad weather now causes performance issues on the football field and traffic issues on the road; and a basketball player with a sprained ankle has an ankle issue. I’m not sure what’s so offensive about discussing traffic problems, health problems, or a sloppy football game. Is it just me?

The problem—that is, what’s wrong—with substituting issue for problem is that those two words are not synonymous—and no amount of being politically correct, disingenuous, or even condescending—yes, it can be condescending—will make it so.

An issue is a topic, such as The candidates will discuss the issues at the debate. That means that the candidates will discuss the different topics, or subject areas, involved in running our country.

A problem is something negative. A problem is something that needs to be solved. A problem is something that we try to overcome. A problem is something that we don’t want. There, I’ve said it. And it feels great. [KC – Woo hoo! I heard it. And I feel great!]

An issue is not a problem, but I’ll tell you what is a problem: the grammatically incorrect trend of telling someone that he has an issue when what you really mean is that he has a problem. Call it what it is, and it’ll be easier to solve.


Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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