March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
In the seventies the word ‘problems’ was freely used, but by the late eighties, ‘problems’ was seen as a negative word which reflected a negative cast of mind. It was better to speak of ‘challenges’, and better still to love a ‘challenge’.
The taboo on the word ‘problems’ continues right up to the present day. Oddly enough, since the early years of this century the word ‘solutions’, presumably to some implied problems, has abounded. But even the most popular words must lose their lustre and, it seems, that the positive word ‘solutions’ is giving way to the more negative one ‘issues’. A school, for example, that was once seeking storage space solutions may now declare that they have storage space issues.
The word ‘issues’ has distinct negative connotations yet it has recommended itself to the populace at large and is being so frequently used that unless you were to take up the life of a hermit, you could hardly escape it.
However, people use the word ‘issues’ in such an indiscriminate way that we cannot be sure what exactly it means, other than to say that ‘issues’ covers anything from a query to a serious personal reverse, and anything from a minor nuisance to wrongdoing that may be criminal.
Please, do not hesitate to contact me . . . personally, over the school phone or via email to discuss any issues.
Letter from a school about a student exchange itinerary (March 2014).
. . . I can wholly recommend her as she has really helped me with various issues . . . A personal email (March 17th) from a woman promoting the massage therapies of her cousin.
There are no issues. (March 20th) A swimming instructor’s verbal assurance to a father that he could buy his daughter a replacement swim hat before her next lesson.
And on March 24th, I learnt from news on Classic FM that The Co-operative Bank has to raise £400 million to cover other issues.
The word ‘issues’ is altogether too flexible in its meaning. A handy word for institutions of one sort and another to hide behind and for individuals to use in a rather self-aggrandising way: for example, parents who say they are prevented from doing things because of childcare issues. If what they mean is that they cannot get hold of a babysitter, rather than that the babysitter has turned out to be unfit to look after children, then why don’t they say so.
Let Jacques Barzun in the opening paragraph of an essay entitled ‘Look for Trouble Ahead’ have the last word:
George Orwell pointed out years ago that bad writing was often a sign of political deceit. Today it is a sign of unlovely human traits as well—vanity, pretentiousness, complacency about one’s ignorance, disrespect toward the listener, and a curious mixture of slavish imitation and a desire to appear original.