This seems another of those fashionable expressions (like awesome) which may not stand the test of generations. But when someone tells you that Suzannah has 'issues with self confidence', what does that mean?

Is it a euphemism for saying 'she lacks self confidence'?

What are the limits to this expression?

Could I say:'In a moment I will have an 'issue' with the clock, as I have to go to a meeting', or perhaps: 'In the car yesterday I had an issue with another driver, and my passenger is now in hospital', or 'the doctor thinks there is an issue with Fred's heart', (it has stopped beating).

How far could we go with this?

  • could it be related to the definition of it being a vital or unsettled matter? Feb 7, 2014 at 14:51
  • It's an elided expression. "(mental) issues". Feb 7, 2014 at 14:52
  • @ElliottFrisch That is what I meant when I said 'euphemism'. But I tend to think euphemisms can be overdone. And this particular one seems to me to be getting out of control. ' 'How long will dinner be, I've got issues with my stomach!'
    – WS2
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:03
  • Granted, usage of this phrase skyrockets in the 1980s to present but there is evidence of usage in the late 1800s. (Line 13 of the ERASTIANISM section in case the highlighting doesn't show up properly- as was the case for me)
    – Jim
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:10
  • @WS2 - that's to direct...you have "hunger issues" in that case
    – Oldcat
    Feb 7, 2014 at 17:34

4 Answers 4


The OED has a draft addition:

In pl. orig. and chiefly U.S. Emotional or psychological difficulties (freq. with modifying word); points of emotional conflict.

If it doesn't have the modifying word mentioned there, it would often be assume that psychological or emotional was elided. This was made popular first among circles in which psychoanalysis was popular, and then among circles where pop-psychology was popular (which at least is cheaper than psychoanalysis, if nothing else).

Of the three hypothetical uses you give:

The issue with your clock could be seen as a facetious use, which is a common enough use (hinting at a certain scorn for those who use the term in terms of psychology, though that could include self-satire).

The issue with the car could be seen as a facetious use that also used humorous understatement (I'd expect an unqualified issue to mean perhaps gestured insults after they cut you off).

The issue with the heart we'd take as eliding medical rather than psychological.

  • 1
    But 'issues' is vastly more widely used than as a euphemism for psychiatric or medical problems. People will say 'I understand you had some issues with your computer', or with your 'mail-delivery', or 'your credit card', or your 'holiday entitlement' or your bank' - the list is endless. People are always having 'issues' and inquiring about your 'issues'. I am always reminded of the woman in the New Testament who had an 'issue of blood'. But I think that was something different! What was the word you entered in the OED above, to give that meaning?
    – WS2
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:11
  • 1
    "Issues with" can also be written as "difficulties with" or "problems with".
    – Roger
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Roger Indeed! And those are the time-honoured uses. I believe that people are afraid to report 'problems' for fear of being seen a dunce, or of insufficient resourcefulness. So all 'problems' are now converted to 'issues'!
    – WS2
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:23
  • 1
    Yes, but words get extended as you know. Issue also has a useful quality in its vagueness; I like to start with issues when diagnosing situations involving software not because I like being mealy-mouthed (I really don't, unless with sarcasm) because I like to start vague and move to precise on the basis of evidence rather than assuming something is a bug, or an upstream flaw, or a user mistake. The origin in "emotional issues" still stands, as it would for the "medical issues" case above; if it's obviously a different sort of issue, then we're obviously eliding a different qualifier.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:31
  • Very good points. Especially in something like a tech support/customer service context, an issue is not necessarily a problem. Some things a user might report are "by design" and are not "problems" that can be fixed. Same in the mental health connotation. "Sally has problems with depression" is sometimes interpreted as "Sally is defective and must be fixed". "Sally has issues with depression", though, has the softer meaning of "Sally is struggling with something beyond her control and we can help her".
    – Roger
    Feb 7, 2014 at 15:35

I'll stick with my comment that, as a starting point for discussion, an issue is, in one definition, either a vital matter or an unsettled matter. (See here, at 6b for example.)

Also consider that people are naturally prone (in my U.S. English experience, anyway) to use exaggeration for effect, either to sound humorous, to be emphatic about a point, to communicate in a thought provoking way, or to provide metaphoric imagery.

That being said, I would say that your example "I will have issues with the clock" veers in the direction of exaggeration, stating that something of vital importance (as in urgent, pressing, compelling) is associated with the clock - there is a meeting scheduled. This fits perfectly within the inclination to use a figure of speech for any of the purposes I mentioned above.

When Suzannah has issues with self-confidence, she has an unsettled or unresolved matter concerning her self-confidence. There is a problem, question, or dispute about the state of her self-confidence.

If you say you have an issue with another driver, then someone would infer that there is an unsettled matter (a problem, question, or dispute) between you and that driver.

An issue with one's heart is a vital matter in the most literal sense, but to say there is an issue with one's heart is also to say there is an unsettled matter with the heart, just as above.

None of these examples are even a far stretch from the cited definition of the word issue. As to how far you can go, the limit is determined by the point where you cease to be understood. English users love to engage in figures of speech and will even invent their own at times (and there's no reason not to, aside from reaching the point of being incomprehensible).

  • Do I therefore infer that if my heart stopped beating that that would be a 'problem' rather than an 'issue'? In a way that makes me glad if it is so, for I had begun to think the word 'problem' had become 'unspeak' i.e. expunged from all the dictionaries in some Orwellian way.
    – WS2
    Feb 7, 2014 at 22:13
  • I am interested in your response and have voted you a point. I think it would be interesting to explore further when an issue is an issue and when it is a problem or difficulty. Perhaps I will raise this as a question. What do you think? It seems to be a vital part of modern usage. Are 'issues' things where we do not expect to find an easy solution, but problems things we expect to be fixed?
    – WS2
    Feb 7, 2014 at 22:22

I'm not sure of the origin of "__ issues," but they may have started as euphemisms for the Electra complex (in which a woman would have "daddy issues") and the Oedipus complex (in which a man would have "mommy issues").

When someone has "issues," they point to some psychological condition.

So your example of "issues with self-confidence" works well.

It would be a stretch to use them in regards to a clock. If you had (psychological) issues with another driver, it might imply some kind of underlying psychological problem unrelated to the driving.

Your example of a doctor and a patient's heart may be used in a medical sense, but not in the psychological sense (excepting the ironic).


Issues as in she has problem with something, but you can not say you are going to have 'issues' with the clock.As far as I can tell, that doesn't fit right.

  • "Schedule issues"
    – Oldcat
    Feb 7, 2014 at 17:37

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