"situation": (Was) issues; the X from Hell

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Dec 10 19:09:28 UTC 2006

At 10:52 AM -0800 12/10/06, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>Again FWIW, I first noticed this usage on a TV show about 20 years
>ago, more or less.  A space alien was radioing, "We have a situation
>here ! " He sounded very perturbed.
>   When I mentioned "situation = emergency" to Dr. Jerry Ball, he
>replied instantly that he'd heard it many times in the U.S. Army in
>the early to mid '70s.
>   It's not in OED yet, but the stylistic objection to "crisis
>situation" is mentioned. In my experience, it was "emergency
>situation" that was usually cited as the prime offender, though it
>is unlikely that such cautions affected space-alien or other spoken
>usage to any considerable degree.
>   JL

Even better to my mind than "situation" = 'emergency situation' and
"issue" = 'problematic issue' (or whatever) is the reference to
"substance-free" (floors, dorms, etc.).  For us literally-minded
types, it conjures up a wonderful image of life in a total vacuum.


>Alison Murie <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: Alison Murie
>Subject: Re: issues; the X from Hell
>>Similar to psychobabblish "issue" is the pejoration or adapting of the
>>word "situation" to mean 'crisis, dangerious development'. When I first
>>started noticing that usage on TV cop shows a few years ago, it seemed
>>like (maybe) a ploy to sound un-panicky in an urgent radio or telephone
>>(Has this already been discussed here?)
>>---- Original message ----
>>>Date: Sat, 9 Dec 2006 09:21:40 -0800
>>>From: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
>>>Subject: issues; the X from Hell
>>>the latest Funny Times (Dec. 2006) has an excerpt (p. 18) from Jon
>>>Winokur's Encyclopedia Neurotica (2004), with two items of local
>>>1. the entry:
>>>Grade-A _psychobabble_ for what used to be called "problems."
>"Condition" is another of these. All these have a sort of euphemizing
>effect, neutralizing the impact of actually stating what the problem,
>crisis, or disease involved is. As usually happens with euphemisms, they
>all tend to throw a shadow back on the substitute words.
>~@:> ~@:> ~@:> ~@:>
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