Rosie Right 

Too many issues

A reader has complained about the constant use of the word issues instead of the plain everyday word problems. He said that in many cases, the substitution seems incorrect.

I, too, am tired of people having issues -- John Edwards, and Bill Clinton have both had "haircut issues," a silly and strange statement. But it is hard to pronounce that the uses we make of the word are wrong. We at Style use Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition as our authority, and the editors of this give as the sixth definition: "a point, matter, or question to be disputed or decided."

The Oxford English Dictionary lists 43 different possible uses for the word issue including: "Of a matter or question: In dispute; under discussion; in question. .."

orig. and chiefly U.S. Emotional or psychological difficulties (freq. with modifying word); points of emotional conflict." But the OED also includes the meaning: "a sewer or sink; a privy. Obs." And "The action of going, passing, or flowing out; egress, exit; power of egress or exit; outgoing, outflow."

Our issues are also our children.

With so many possibilities, it is wise to consider the use of issues carefully, but we probably shouldn't, in many cases, rule it out.

Note: The AP Stylebook includes a couple of warnings for writers: "controversial : An overused word; avoid it. A controversial issue is redundant." and "noncontroversial: All issues are controversial. A noncontroversial issue is impossible."

The issue, I believe, is that while issues is a good word, it should also be very carefully used. It can become very tiresome and maybe even a substitute for thinking carefully and describing the controversy we are discussing.

Talk the Talk

Chill pill, noun. A (notional) pill used to calm or relax a person. Freq. in to take a chill pill: to calm down, to relax, to 'chill out' (usu. in imper.). Source: list of words the Oxford English Dictionary is adding to its accepted list.

Nutrigenomics, noun The study of the interaction between a person's diet and genetic profile, especially to tailor a diet to one's medical needs. Source: Copy Editor Dec. 2006

Black site, noun. A classified military site, the existence of which is officially denied. Source: Dictionary Update by Jesse Sheidlower in Copy Editor Newsletter Octt -Nov. 2006.

Let Rosie hear from you by phone (358-0825, ext 322), e-mail (rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com) or by mail (1707 Summit Ave., Richmond Va. 23230).

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