Don’t give me problems, rename them

It’s too tempting to complain about people using the word solution as a lazy way to describe their product. I’m sure I will get to it soon, but today it just makes my head ache.

Instead I bring you better news: an audacious and delightful innovation in the use of the S-word from the Talk Normal archives. The email is a few years old but I treasure it, as you can see. Hewlett-Packard’s support team sent it to me when I had a problem with a printer and I was getting a little testy in emails to them because they weren’t fixing it for me.

It shows a technical support operation that so wants to bring me good news, and so can’t, that it has adopted plan B: simply redefining the word “problem” as “solution” and emailing my problem back to me to see if I’d notice. Here’s what it said:

Why stop at printer drivers? Innovation like this could, overnight, solve much bigger problems simply by redefining them in a more glass-half-full way. Let us be bold and agitate for Hewlett-Packard’s technical support department to be given control of the biggest problem (soon to be solution) of all: the struggle for world peace. It would take but a few minutes to draft an email declaring that world peace has been achieved, with a proviso that the actual absence of “war” might take some time.

Of course, in the field of world peace, this would be ridiculous. It’s about as likely as someone being given the Nobel Peace Prize not because he had directly caused any peace so far, but because he’d identified and confirmed the current lack of peace, and promised to let us all know when a fix is available.

On the plus side: I remember that HP did eventually email me a printer driver that worked. So it stands to reason we should be optimistic about the other thing.

2 Responses to “Don’t give me problems, rename them”

  1. 1 Brett Hetherington January 9, 2010 at 11:50 am

    This gives a whole different meaning to the Nazi’s “Final Solution” to “the Jewish question” but the attempts to obscure the truth by dishonest use of language are in the same category.

    I think another other word that is similarly used so often now to water down the real nature of a confronting situation is the word “issue.” We don’t have problems any more…we have issues. I realised this a few years ago when a teenage student of mine attempted to put down another student by saying in a demeaning tone: “You’ve got ISSUES!” I’m sure he had heard it used by a teacher or counsellor and recognised the power of the expression, partly because it was so vague and unspecific.

  2. 2 Tim Phillips January 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I refer Mr Hetherington to my comment on exactly this problem/solution/issue:

    …which shows that I couldn’t agree more. I must add that if someone had accused me of “having issues” when I was at school, I’d have stamped on his glasses or squashed chewing gum in his hair*. This may have proved him correct; but I would have claimed it was simply a demonstration of the ultimate uselessness of weasel words.

    * I’m not proud of this, but it’s best to be honest. If there are any kids reading this, don’t stamp on someone’s glasses: it’s a very expensive form of bullying.

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