My car has a funny knocking sound in the engine, so I telephone the garage. What do I say? 'I have a problem with my car'? or 'I have an issue with my car'?

My cousin is suffering clinical depression. Is this an 'issue' or an 'illness'?

My computer keeps crashing. I call the support people. Do I say my computer has an issue or that it is not working properly?

The dinner is burning in the oven. Sorry, dear, there is an issue concerning tonight's meal? Right or wrong?

A child is being bullied at school by an older child. Is this a 'pupil relationship issue' or is it 'child abuse'?

My neighbour's dog keeps barking and keeps us awake at night, so eventually I go to the neighborhood mediator. Do I tell him there is an 'issue with the dog', or that the 'bloody dog needs shooting'?

If there is dog's muck on the recreation ground where children play, is this an 'issue' or a 'disgrace'?

The word 'issue' has become ubiquitous, and things that were once 'problems' and 'difficulties', or needed fixing, are now 'issues'.

Sooner or later I am going to bawl down the phone at someone who says 'I understand there is an issue with a delivery of a parcel to your address'. Yes, there's an issue alright, it hasn't been delivered!

When is a problem a problem, and a fault a fault, a breakdown a breakdown, a failed delivery a failed delivery, and when is it an 'issue'?

Your ideas please.

  • The phantom down-voter has been at work. No doubt they have an 'issue' with what I have written. – WS2 Feb 7 '14 at 23:32
  • I didn't down vote, but this sounds to me less like a question and more like venting, so I voted to close as POB. By the way, I've seen a question like this before – I'll see if I can dig it up for you. – Bradd Szonye Feb 8 '14 at 0:19
  • @BraddSzonye If you look at the comment I have made under Oldcat's answer, you will see that I fully accept that 'issue' is a legitimate expression. All I am asking is when should it be used? Its use has grown exponentially, doubling in use in the last 38 years. In my view it is used inappropriately, but we need to discuss when it is valid and when not. books.google.com/ngrams/… – WS2 Feb 8 '14 at 0:43

It might be best parsed this way....I have an issue. You have a difficulty. He has a problem.

  • +1 Valid point. But there are genuine reasons for some things being called 'issues'; the sorts of things that do not lend themselves to easy resolution e.g. the conflict in Syria. Or that of a lady I saw tonight who has MS. This presents a 'mobility issue'. If a child has Asberger's syndrome, this presents lots of 'issues' with which the parents have to deal. But if something is broken which can be mended, that I would term a problem, until it gets fixed. – WS2 Feb 8 '14 at 0:12
  • An issue in the political sense is a source of contention. They could be discussed and resolved. Wars shouldn't be issues, as you fight them and resolve them that way. Mobility issues are not really discussable, we call them issues to avoid discussing them. – Oldcat Feb 8 '14 at 0:16
  • I don't agree with the idea that issue / difficulty / problem are meaningfully related to first / second / third person pronouns. With no additional context to distinguish possible shades of meaning, the only difference between them is that idiomatically all of us, separately and collectively are far more likely to have difficulty (without the indefinite article). – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '14 at 1:03
  • 2
    It is a reflection of the old parsing jokes. "I am direct - you are blunt - He is rude" These days 'issue' is the least judgmental and the one least likely to admit of a resolution. Problems still seem to require action. – Oldcat Feb 8 '14 at 1:08

The word "issue" always implies contention. A long time ago, female suffrage was not an issue; nobody really thought that women should have the vote.

Then, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became an issue; many people campaigned for women's right to vote and many resisted.

Now it is again a non-issue; nobody takes the position that women shouldn't vote.

Slavery was both an issue and a problem in America in the nineteenth century. It was a problem in the eyes of anti-slavery folk because they saw it as a great social evil that caused terrible suffering. The pro slavery folk didn't see it as a problem; they saw it as a natural state of affairs that suited them just fine

But both sides regarded it as an issue. It was a matter of contention and debate and, eventually, war.

Now it is neither a problem nor an issue.

The teaching of evolution is still an issue, and some would regard it as a problem.

Strokes are a medical problem; they kill and disable people. As far as I know they are not an issue. As far as I know there is no significant disagreement about their causation and treatment.

But it makes sense to talk about the cholesterol issue, because some people regard cholesterol as a great danger while others say it's relatively harmless.

To say "my son has issues at school" when you mean, "my son is both lazy and stupid" shows you like weasel words.

To say "my computer has issues with the motherboard" demonstrates that you have no feel for language at all.

But in the world as it actually exists, very few people care about precision and accuracy in language, so don't worry about it.

  • I do not agree with much of what you have written, e.g. people are beginning to use the word 'issue' to mean medical things like strokes. And though I disagree vehemently with the idea behind your final sentence, will give you a +1 for making the effort to reply. – WS2 Feb 25 '14 at 8:17
  • An "A" for effort. You are pathetic. First you are unable to grasp the meaning of what I've written and then you adopt the condescending posture implicit in writing "A for effort". You are offended that I write that very few people care about precision and accuracy in language. Well, you don't live in the real world, you live in some cloud cuckoo land. Think about the word "forensic." It began being used about twenty years ago, as a part of the phrase "forensic science." – warwick Feb 25 '14 at 10:00

Quite simply, an issue is a matter of doubt or debate or contentiom. A problem is a difficulty that needs to be solved or resolved. Anyone wishing to use these words clearly and accurately should have no diificulty in doing so if they are aware of their true meanings. Everyone else who have no respect for precision in the use of language should continue to misuse the word "issue".


"A" for effort. Pathetic. You are unable to grasp the meaning of what I've written and then you condescend."A for effort". You are offended that I write that very few people care about precision and accuracy in language. Well, you live in cloud cuckoo land. Consider the word "forensic." About 20 years ago we got the phrase "forensic science." "Forensic" has always meant "legal"; never had any connotation of science. Now, overwhelmingly, it simply means "science," the science that detectives employ. A perfect demonstration that very few people care about precision and accuracy in language.

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