Fan Takes Issue With Car Talk Blogger's Use of Word "Issue"

Staff Blog

Staff Blog | May 22, 2017

Note from the editors:
A reader took issue with a recent post on This post, issued from the pen of Tim Cotton, was also featured in the latest issue of our newsletter. We take full responsibility for the issue, as we issued the request for the article. You can read for the original post yourself, and see if you agree with the letter writer's diagnosis of the issue, right here.

Sgt. Cotton

I had the pleasure of discovering your blog entries on the Car Talk web site today. I read several, starting with the one on speeding.

Unfortunately, in that piece my “i-detector” picked up on your use of a word that I find frequently misused and over used: “issues”. You wrote of “speed issues” and “traffic issues”. I accept that speakers and writers with weak vocabularies will use this word rather than using a more precise word. It puzzles me why people with great vocabularies resort to using this cliché word so frequently. My essay offers 61 better choices.

A knife blade, a screwdriver, a tweezers, a corkscrew, a fingernail file, a scissors, a saw, an awl, and so on. What is this? This is a list of the roles filled by a Swiss Army knife. The big problem is that this knife does none of these tasks very well. If you have nothing better, use your Swiss Army knife, but if you have access to the specific tool, then good sense calls for you to use it. "Issues" is a linguistic Swiss Army knife. If you find yourself stranded, use "issues", but if your lexical toolbox is handy, use the right word.

I am vigorously trying to reduce the misuse of the word "issues". To this end, I have composed an essay, which I hope you will read for your entertainment and enlightenment. There is another by a British author, which is attached as well. They are attached in pdf form, both to preserve my work and to increase your safety in opening anattachment.

I hope, after you read these essays, you will see fit to use more appropriate and descriptive words where you might be tempted to use "issues".

I look forward to your reply.


Do you have a linguistic pet peeve? We want to hear it! Post it in the comments. 

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One