The Grammarphobia Blog

When the issue is “issues”

Q: I heard you discussing the frequent use of the word “issue” these days to mean an objection or a complaint, as in “to have issues with somebody.” This isn’t a question, but the discussion reminded me of a less frequent use of the word “issue” now: Henry the VIII had issues. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the male issue he wanted until he’d gone through 3 wives!

A: Reminds me of an old Burma Shave ditty: “Henry the Eighth … sure had trouble. … short-term wives … long-term stubble. … Burma Shave.”

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s earliest reference for the use of “issue” as offspring dates back to the late 14th century. The OED‘s earliest citation for “issue” as a subject of controversy or dispute dates back to the early 15th century. But my CD version of the OED doesn’t include the phrase “to have issues with,” indicating that the usage is relatively recent. A discussion about the expression on Google Answers suggests that it might have originated as college slang in the 1990s or Gateway computer jargon, though I can’t vouch for either.