Offender Number One: “The Issue”
I have a problem. But it seems I’m the only one who does. Other people have “issues” or, if they’re serious, “challenges”. But it seems nobody (except me) has “problems” any more.
A problem used to be the default word for a difficult situation that needed a solution. But it seems to have skulked out of our everyday lexicon – too problematic a term for us to want to see or hear.
“Issue” originally stems for the Latin exire, meaning simply “to go out” or “go forth”, which is why we issue tickets or buy the latest issue of a magazine. (And, in turn, it also came to mean offspring, such as in the now quaint legal term used in inheritance matters such as “he died without issue”.) “Problem” rather more forcefully means an obstacle — coming from both the Latin and Greek words for something thrown forward.
Today, both words quite legitimately do mean a difficult situation. But I can’t help thinking that the more neutral “issue” is a way of avoiding the unpalatable truth. On a far more serious level, the powers-that-be have invented terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage” to avoid admitting that literally unspeakable things have happened.
So maybe if we all, collectively, agree to face the world’s problems head on, we might eventually find the solutions — and can issue a declaration of world peace.
Offender Number Two: “Something to Share”
Back in the day, at journalism colleges and on local newspapers in the UK, cub reporters had it drummed into them that when they quoted somebody directly, the sentence started or ended “Mr Smith says” or “said Ms Lee”. Plain, simple says or said, a neutral word that would not detract from the impact of the quote. Eventually, when we’d qualified, we were allowed — very occasionally — to write “she explained” or “he emphasised” if it added to the story.
At some point in the last few years, however, we have all started “sharing”. Sure, technically if you’re being interviewed for publication then you are sharing your knowledge and/or your views. And sharing — unless it’s your ’flu germs or some nasty, untrue gossip — is good, isn’t it?
So why does reading that “Ms Naidu shares…” (whatever she has to tell us) somehow sounds really cloying and make me think of eight-year-old best-friends-forever giggling over their innocent shared little secrets? It somehow doesn’t seem grown up. When you’re wearing Nike, just do it. When you’re reporting speech, just say it — please.
Offender Number Three: “Awesome!”
One of the many magical moments on my travels was my first visit to the Sahara, in Tunisia. The sand, I discovered, was finer than any to be found on a lumpy British beach, the dunes were as stark and mysterious as I’d hoped, and as dusk fell like a curtain on the desert, we mounted our camels and set off by starlight back to our camp. Suddenly, from nowhere, the sound of an imam calling the faithful to prayer at some distant mosque rang out in the stillness. It felt utterly alien; completely perfect; I was awestruck.
So when somebody casually mentions that a pleasant but otherwise ordinary thing is awesome, I feel they’re missing out. Because when a biggie does come up — if a UFO, complete with little green men, were to land in Marina Bay, say — they would have the problem of no words being momentous enough to issue from their mouth.
Me? I’ll use the one reserved for those super-special moments: awesome.