Writing for Business

Apr 3 2013   11:37AM GMT

Weasel words: issue

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Due to a configuration problem, your email servers are down and users have no access. How should you describe the problem?
a. Our email servers are down.
b. We are dealing with configuration issues.
c. Users are experiencing connectivity issues.

Answer: a. Include b if you want to.

In the IT world, as elsewhere, “issue” is a common weasel word. Similar to a euphemism, a weasel word is often used to downplay the seriousness of an event or to squirm away from blame. In this case, service was interrupted because your servers were down. Saying the problem was “user connectivity issues” makes it sound like not only is the ISP blameless, it’s probably the customer’s fault.

David Platt takes issue with issue:

My e-mail service went down last month for a full day. When it finally came back up, I received an apology from its administrator, saying: “users experienced e-mail connectivity issues.” Bullhockey, Mr. Administrator. I did not experience “an issue.” I experienced the lack of e-mail because your servers were down. I experienced the waste of my time, the delay of my projects and the loss of my income. I experienced anger at your enterprise, which promised reliability but didn’t deliver. And I experienced even greater anger at your attempt to downplay your malpractice by using that worst of all weasel words: “issue.”

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