Thursday, January 16, 2014

Politicians, reporters, and the word “issue”

I’ve discussed the misuse of the word issue in previous posts (example here). Evasive people love the catchall word issue because they can use it to (1) downplay a problem or (2) pretend to be saying something when they are in fact saying nothing.

As you surely know, politicians are big users of evasive language. So are many reporters who mimic the speech patterns of politicians.*

Here, as just one small example, is a recent article in the New Hampshire Union Leader about a temporary local oil shortage. The reporters quote seven people: four are politicians and three are businesspeople. One politician and the reporters call the shortage an issue (instead of a problem, which is what it is).** None of the businesspeople (as quoted) use the word issue.

I’m not citing this one example as proof; it is merely a hot story from my local paper. Every week, the press contains thousands of examples of politicians and their reporters using evasive language.

The Takeaway: The word issue is almost always used evasively. Before you speak or write this word, ask yourself what you mean. Are you using it appropriately (Example: “Don’t dodge the issue.”) or evasively (Example: as a euphemism for problem)?

See disclaimer.

*The main reason many reporters mimic the speech patterns of politicians is that all humans tend to mimic the speech patterns of the group they most want to be accepted by, and many reporters most want to be accepted by politicians. You see, politicians usually supply the bulk of a reporter’s predigested news, making the reporter’s job much easier. This is why most of the articles on the front page of a newspaper are about government.

**And one of the politicians calls the shortage “an emergency situation.” This is another type of evasion popular with politicians: Soften a bold noun such as emergency by changing it into an adjective and using the adjective to modify a wimpy noun such as situation.

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