You Have Problems, Not Issues

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.

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.


Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

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12 Responses to You Have Problems, Not Issues

  1. Pingback: issues - ESL Forum

    • John Palocy says:

      I can’t stand the substitution of issue for problem. It makes me nauseous. I’m a musician, and I love slang, but there is nothing to love here. It has no soul……
      In a visual culture, it seems that words are just so many shells to hide things under, or prods to force knee-jerk responses. How many college educated people have just accepted this usage? Perhaps this is some kind of a mind control experiment to determine how easy it is to eliminate meaning from language.

      • languageandgrammar says:

        Very interesting, thought-provoking answer–thanks for leaving the comment.

      • Monica Tyne says:

        Someone I respected once told me that language evolved to facilitate deceit and intrigue. Although I had “issues” with that at the time, my current perception is that the elephant in the living room is the norm rather than the exception.

  2. Kurt Freiberger says:

    I’ve recently become aware of this. It’s like fingernails on chalkboards to me now. I guess, “issues” will be a problem for a long time, irregardless of convention.

    SOMEBODY has to think of the language!

  3. a brosista says:

    See Ken Smith’s Junk English 2001: “Issue”

  4. Niall (Nik) Nicholson says:

    Wow, I’m amazed there are only 3 other comments on this topic: I last Googled “issue not problem” months ago and found this site, but the lack of comments give me the feeling that the bad guys are winning…
    It’s like we have to pretend it’s always ok all the time, all yin and no yang.
    No surrender. Venceremos!

  5. Rick Creager says:

    I pet peeve of mine!


    FYI, Ariann.

    There are political issues and there are legislative issues, but there is no such thing as a brake issue. When brakes don’t work properly you most definitely have a problem.


    From: Ariann
    Sent: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 9:55 AM
    To: Rick;
    Subject: Taurus out of commission

    The Taurus is having issues with the brakes so please don’t plan on using it this week until we can get it looked at. I’ll let you know when it’s been fixed.



    • languageandgrammar says:

      Thanks for making us laugh–that’s a classic misuse of the word issue, and if Ariann reads the blog, she might think twice before sending any more e-mail.

  6. Robert Brown says:

    Then why don’t people ever say a situation is “issuematic” and “Let’s engage in some issue solving”?

  7. Robert Williams says:

    When we say “issue” instead of “problem” we deny that there is a problem. The 1st step in problem solving is Recognition. Just one more example of PC (political correctness) contaminating our lives.

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