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The etymology of the word "issue" seems to be :

Middle English (in the sense ‘outflowing’): from Old French, based on Latin exitus, past participle of exire ‘go out’.

The many usages of "issue" are in keeping with this root. Supplying or distributing, magazine and similar periodicals, outcome of an action, children (archaic?), etc. But I really don't understand how it came to mean a problem.

  • 3
    Historically the "issue" (or "issues") in a lawsuit designated the outcome of pretrial conferences between the judge and parties agreeing what matters and points of law the trial would address -- thus expediting trial by ignoring irrelevant matters. – StoneyB Nov 11 '17 at 20:45
  • My recollection is that "having issues" developed on college campuses (and perhaps more generally among young people) a couple of decades ago as a way of referring to complaints about a course and how it was being taught; having personal problems called "issues" may have come later. – Xanne Nov 11 '17 at 21:04
  • The expression 'I would take issue with that' is an interesting one. – Nigel J Nov 11 '17 at 22:31
  • Very broadly, 'outflowing’: from Old French, based on Latin exitus, past participle of exire ‘go out’ means that which stems from or flowing/following (on) from. Equally broadly, problem means thing unresolved. Aren't Thing unresolved and that which stems from very broadly equal? – Robbie Goodwin Nov 25 '17 at 0:29
  • If you Ngram political issue you will see that the use goes back to the late 1800s. – Hot Licks Dec 12 '17 at 2:19
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The OED (paywall) notes (besides the definitions relating to "flowing from") a couple of definitions--matters to be decided or matters in contention (matters to be decided by debate or discussion).

And then:

16. orig. U.S. Chiefly in pl., and often with modifying word.

a. orig. Psychol. A emotional or psychological difficulty or problem; a point of emotional conflict.See also to have an issue with at Phrases 2g. 1977 J. S. Horewitz Family Therapy & Transactional Anal. 268 I think that my own personality and my issues do affect... how I am as a therapist.

The 1977 is the first quotation under this definition; there are several others.

About the same time, there's this definition:

b. A problem or difficulty with a service or facility; a failing in any system, esp. regarded as a matter to be resolved.

1978 SIAM Jrnl. Appl. Math. 35 233 Immediate dispatch is appropriate to minimize average wait for all..passengers [on the shuttle]. There are some technical issues..but they cause no trouble.

The cross-reference to "to have issues with" is listed as U.S. in origin and colloquial:

g. colloq. (orig. U.S.). to have an issue with: to have an objection to; to be unable to accept (a particular condition or circumstance).

1978 Proc. United Glass & Ceramic Workers N. Amer. 101/1 Mr Chairman, I am going to search my notes. If that is the way it is, I don't have an issue with that.

To summarize, the OED begins picking up this use of "issue" as a problem in the late 1970s. The legal definition, mentioned in the comment by @StoneyB, appears in the OED definitions with citations going back to the 15th century and seems to me to be related to later use of the term as a matter to be debated or decided, and is related to its use in terms such as racial issue, social issue, and the like.

  • 1855: books.google.com/… – Hot Licks Jan 11 '18 at 1:46
  • I think if you trace a bit more of the OED's discussion of the term and progression of usage the connection with the original sense would be clearer. – 1006a Jan 11 '18 at 6:24
  • Please feel free. I'm not going to do any more on this. – Xanne Jan 11 '18 at 8:15

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