'Problematic' Is A Useless Word That Can Mean Anything And Everything
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'Problematic' Is A Useless Word That Can Mean Anything And Everything

The word, as a descriptor of upsetting or offensive things, isn’t even problematic, it’s just bad.

'Problematic' Is A Useless Word That Can Mean Anything And Everything

Every era of humanity comes with its own linguistic disaster areas. Various flowery words and phrases for the simpler and ubiquitous 'cool' come to mind: groovy, wicked, far out, the bees' knees. (I'm serious... what was up with that last one?) In any case, turns of phrase will always have a day or two in the sun before fading blissfully back into oblivion. In some cases, however, it would behoove all of us to usher certain phrases out of the spotlight a little more quickly.

The first victim of my quest to make language as elegant and efficient as possible?


This is the "it" word of the average liberal college student, of which I am one. I've heard it used to describe family members, Halloween costumes, names for pets, types of food, movies, authors, actors, actresses, designer pet breeding, and not doing one's makeup before venturing out of one's house. When you think about it hard enough, everything is problematic. Which means we have a problem.

If the word "problematic" can be molded, twisted, and shaped to apply to everything, what on earth does it actually mean?

Something problematic is objectionable in some way. Referring to it simply as 'problematic' tells us very little about what's actually wrong with it. The biggest piece of information delivered by labeling something as "problematic" is that you, personally, are offended by it, and while the label of "problematic'' is typically followed by a paragraph or two explaining exactly why it sucks, wouldn't it be easier just to lead with that?

For example: "Harry Potter is problematic" versus "Harry Potter is offensive to me because it utilizes anti-Semitic stereotyping in its characterization of the Gringotts goblins and Snape."

Statement number two is a topic sentence. It states the problem, that you're offended, but continues on to tell the person you're talking to exactly why you're offended. It forces you to think out the reasons why you're upset by a thing, and when someone asks you why you're pissed off about a beloved children's book series, you can provide actual reasons and actual evidence. Because you've thought about it and aren't just spewing out your gut reaction.

Statement number one tells you none of that. It comes off as knee-jerk and emotion-driven, and knee-jerk emotion-driven arguments are a lot easier to dismiss than their slightly more logical counterparts. This is not to say that emotions are bad or wrong. Emotions are what they are, and every person on the planet is within their rights to be upset about whatever they want to be upset about. But when you're sharing that "upsettedness," it benefits you to do so in a way that doesn't undermine your credibility. Winning an argument isn't about browbeating your opponent into submission. It's about proving that you have a better argument than whoever you're talking to has.

In the spirit of reasoned debate and making better arguments, please consign "problematic" to the linguistic scrap heap. The word itself doesn't merit its own usage.

"Problematic" as a descriptor of upsetting or offensive things isn't even problematic, it's just bad.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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