Plain English

I’m one of those old fashioned people who think that language matters.

I care.

It annoys me when people blur the meaning of well-established words, and it annoys me even more when they assign new meanings without  thinking about the consequences.


Simple.  We have many useful words out there doing a useful job, and when we change their meaning we leave a hole in the language.
This is the first in a never-ending series of pleas I’m going to send out to people who really ought to know better: please stop taking perfectly good words and changing their meaning without good reason.

Today’s plea is aimed at the IT / internet / techie community.

Please stop saying “issues” when you mean “problems”.


Don’t tell  me about server issues.  Please don’t write about how your Google sitemap plugin caused lots of issues.  Why?

Because that doesn’t signify anything at all, unless you change the meaning of the word issue to mean problem.

Please (though of course I know you can ignore me if you like and there’s fuck-all I can do about it), please, why couldn’t you tell me that my WordPress version is causing PROBLEMS ?

Would that be so hard?

Or, could you complain that your Google site-thingy caused fucking PROBLEMS , not issues?


It would have three advantages.

First, the rest of us will be able to understand you.

Second, the word issues will continue to mean what it’s supposed to.

And third, problem will still mean problem.

How about it, guys?

22 thoughts on “Plain English

  1. I agree, perhaps we could leverage our core competencies in order to synergisticaly bring about a new paradigm……….

    Ooops, alter ego Corporate-criminal getting out there. How about “It banjaxed my server”? I think more such colloquialisms should be incorporated into the IT world masquerading as techno-babble.

  2. Careful, you might cause unwanted “Adminstative Effort”, ie you may cause them to have to do something. Anything, bar sit up to their todgers in cables looking sullen at the risk of being dragged away from world of warcraft just when hotchick2424 was about to get her tits out. Of course hotchic2424 lives in his mothers attic in belarus and has a problem with hairy palms. Nerds. You gotta love em.

  3. Sorry have to disagree if words don’t evolve and change the language dies, like Latin. In fact English is the most bastardised of all languages which is one of the reasons why it is so successful – that and the invading Brits.

  4. Flirty: I have no objection to changing the language if the change adds something.

    My objection is to the use of vague words as substitutes for exact ones. Using a term like “issues” simply blurs the message and makes it harder to understand.

    Maybe that’s the intention.

  5. The problem is there are issues with your piece :-)

    Partly its just business speak – issues sounds better than problems. Its stupid but then much of what happens in organizations is stupid.

    The other part is that “issues” is used frequently in and around IT for a good reason, when there are genuine things that need to be discussed and worked out. Most IT projects would have an issues list for things that need to be worked out and clarified. Its a small step from there to a more general (mis)usage of the term.

    But yeah if the server goes down you have a problem not an issue.

  6. Dermot: Thanks. That’s exactly my point. If a word is doing a good job somewhere, we should leave it alone and not be trying to make it do a job it was never meant for.

    It seems to me that using fuzzy language is often just a way of avoiding precise thinking.

  7. It’s spin.

    If you’ve an issue with that, ok. No problem.

    It’s a subtle excercise in the re-location of fault responsibilty. It goes from something created by the ‘service provider’ (that they have to do something about) to something the consumer experiences (and has to do something about).

  8. Ah fucking face it Bock, you’re getting old! That’s the ambiguous way young folk talk these days. Have you seen teenage text-speak, your issue-problem dilemma is very much in the cheap seats, u c, do u c? And remember what happened the last time you did text; it’s an omen, your scaldy shinnedness.

  9. Yesterday I was at a Seminar (meeting) and counted 8 “going forwards” instead of “in future” and a few “at this point in times”, making a surprsing come back in usage, before my brain numbed and even though I was present at the meeting, I was in fact enjoying a stroll around the Burren in my head. A rocky place my head and a store of imaginative escape. I wish all these guys could take their, CDP points, Cdps and Ops incorporating the PMDS, Tms and Pdps, not forgetting RM plans and H&S “issues” and stick them up their arse.

  10. Given that I work in IT, and am interested in language, this is something I have actually thought about. Actually “issues” is probably more precise than the black and white but vague definition “problems”. A problem implies that something is wrong, and that it is specific. Something like ” the server is down” can have a plethora of causes” in fact 9 times out of 10, servers are not really down, it is something else, network, (router, firewall etc), software, (application server, web servers, etc). Therefore initially to describe something as an issue is probably correct until further diagnosis points to something more specific.
    You wouldn’t want to go to the doctor with a vague chest pain and have him / her immediately decide that you had heart problems, and operate, when n reality you had indigestion.
    My experience in the IT world is that the most dangerous people are those that see IT as a black and white universe and make specific and hurried diagnosis. Language is very important here. Especially as to the lay person IT is a catch-all term. To overuse my Doctors analysis, it’s kind of like saying The Medical Profession to cover Doctors only, when it really covers, nurses, EMT’s, etc. IT people come from many different arenas and need a common language, it needs to be precise, I agree there, but more importantly it needs to be accurate, even if this creates vagueness initially. It’s the age old problem that the words a professional uses to communicate to another professional ultimately come across as bullshit to the lay person. OK, I need to stop now, before I disappear up my own arse.

  11. In Google a web search using:> “bock the robber” brings this up:

    Bock The Robber · Weblogs
    Irish-based site, commenting on world issues, current affairs, politics, music, religion, sport, corruption and government incompetence. With stories.

    …. world issues !!!!

  12. The term ‘problem’ is taboo in the IT/systems racket these days because we live in world of business ‘coaches’ and ‘mentors’ and self help gurus who tell us to ‘think positive’. Plus, we are a bit spoiled and lazy. Hence, there are no problems (which imply something wrong), only “issues” (which are simply matters of perception, to be looked at in a much lighter vein, and possibly ignored, made fun of, or debated without any conclusion at ‘team meetings’). This gives managers, and the people who work for them (for very nice wages and benefits) great encouragement: Rather than fix the problem, they’ll argue that your perception of it is simply wrong, will ‘prioritise’ it at the bottom of their ‘task lists’, and, take off on holidays. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with a system that doesn’t work properly and no way to get your money back, unless you can afford a lot of legal advice.

    And then some Polish or Indian guy who actually wants to fix the problem, and for half price, gets the job instead and we’re all fucked. Then we really do have an issue…

  13. … and moving forward (or is it backward?), I have no objection/problem/issue at all to the use of the word “issue/issues” being used to describe a Weblog on Google, not even when the particular Weblog has issues with the word “issues”.


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