Monday, September 1, 2008

The maniacal use of “issues” (1)

Fad words and phrases will almost always detract from clear writing.

In Yale University’s description of its Hall of Graduate Studies, these three sentences appear:

“The small basement kitchen is available for light food preparation, especially during times when the dining hall is closed. It has a table and four chairs, microwave, electric stove, toaster, refrigerator and sink. Cookware is not provided nor is storage of resident items permissible due to space and cleanliness issues.” (Boldface added.)

The abuse of issues has become a mania. Like almost all fad words, issues is popular because it allows lazy writers and speakers to avoid the effort of deciding and clearly stating what they mean.

In the place of “due to space and cleanliness issues,” the Yale writer probably should have written something like this:

because management estimates that there is not enough space in the kitchen and because management fears that many residents will fail to keep cookware clean and will thereby create unhygienic conditions.

The Takeaway: The word issues, like drive and actually and paradigm, has graduated from fad word to mania word. Before you write or speak this word, ask yourself, “What is a clear way to make my point?”


  1. I believe that, besides being a "cool" fad word, "issues" simply avoids getting to the real point. For example, our children today don't have "problems" with drugs and drinking; they have "issues" with "substance abuse." It's as if a 16-year-old's knocking off a six-pack a night is something debatable -- and possibly good.

  2. And building on this specious term, i see that "environmental issues will have a significant impact"! I have no idea if the 'issue' is a problem, a good thing, an opportunity for a positive change, or something else; and the significant impact could be positive or negative. So few people care to challenge the laxity of using 'issues', because it's use appears to validate one's own beliefs, whatever they may be!