Thursday, August 14, 2014

The maniacal use of “issues” (6)

A view of Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights, Queens, New York

In several posts (for example here), I’ve called attention to the widespread misuse of the word issuesMany people seem determined to misuse the word all day long.

For example, there are four appearances in a brief article, “Diversity Plaza [in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York] Gets Dedicated Police Officers to Address Complaints.” Here they are (emphasis mine):

The reporter uses issues in a paraphrase:
Two police officers have begun patrolling Diversity Plaza in response to complaints about vagrants, loud music and other safety issues, according to the precinct's commander....
The reporter quotes someone using issue:
“It's a serious quality of life issue right now.”
The reporter uses issues in a paraphrase:
“It’s a place to sit and enjoy, eat food,” he said, although he did agree with some of the issues brought up at the meeting.
The reporter uses issue in a paraphrase:
The police can help, but the cleanliness issue requires everyone to step up, he said.

When people misuse the vague word issues, they are usually being deceptive or just lazy. For example:

Deceptive: The reporter (paraphrasing the police commander) uses “safety issues” as a generic phrase for a class of behavior that includes being vagrant and playing loud music. However, being vagrant and playing loud music are forms of interference with the public’s convenience and enjoyment, not threats to the public’s safety. Of course, it is possible that the “other safety issues” included real threats to safety; but if so, why weren’t those threats mentioned? It may be that the reporter heard about nuisances and wished to exaggerate them to threats, in order to spice up her story . Or the police commander exaggerated them, in order to justify dedicating two officers to fighting nuisances instead of fighting crime.

Just Lazy: A person using the vague phrase “quality of life issue” is just too darn lazy to articulate what he really means (for a long list of similar examples, look here).

The Takeaway: The word issues, like drive and actually, has graduated from fad word to mania word. Before you reach for the handy, vague word issues, ask yourself, “What is a clear way to make my point?” Don’t make your readers guess what you mean; if you do it frequently, your readers may become suspicious of your intentions.

See disclaimer.

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