Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The maniacal use of "issues" (2)

In an earlier post, I warned that the word issues is a mania word that writers and speakers often abuse instead of writing or speaking clearly. Here’s another example of the abuse of issues.

On August 26, 2008, this paragraph appeared in The Wall Street Journal:

“Hundreds of [flight] delays spread throughout U.S. airspace Tuesday as a result of problems with part of the computer system that processes and approves instrument flight plans around the country. An FAA spokeswoman says there are no safety issues and officials are still able to speak to pilots on planes on the ground and in the air. The bulk of the problems were centered around Boston, Chicago and other airports in the East, the FAA said.” (Boldface added.)

What did the FAA spokeswoman (or, if the reporter paraphrased her words, the reporter) mean by the vague phrase “safety issues”?

She may have meant to say:

That part of the computer (with or without problems) does not affect the risk of accidents at all.


That part of the computer can affect the risk of accidents, but the current problems in that part of the computer cannot affect the risk of accidents.


The level of risk of accidents is currently within the range that the FAA and the airlines find acceptable.

Or one of many other possible meanings. But why make the reader (who probably paid to read that paragraph) guess what was meant?

The Takeaway: Before you use issues, or any other vague fad-word, ask yourself, “What is a clear way to make my point?” Don’t be rude to your reader.

The maniacal use of issues (1)

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