It is often difficult, if not impossible, to trace slang phrases to
their sources. I've gathered some material on "issues," but I doubt
that a final, definitive answer to the origin of the phrase can be
According to an interesting page of "College Slang Around the World,"
the use of "issues" in this sense dates at least to 1997:
"issues (n) (see, have issues)
Problems. That girl got a lot of issues. [Centre College, Danville,
Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA, 1997]"
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
This site seems to indicate that a similar use of "issues" originated
in computer jargon:
"Issues 1. (n.) - Gateway slang a very stupid computer problem.
Solutions to issues involve plugging in keyboards, turning on the
power, unplugging the surge supressor from itself, and other simple
solves. See also Clients. 2. (n.) - Liz and KT slang any past event
which adversely affects an individual's ability to cope with a current
crises. Example: Because of being stood up for a date once, Jack has
issues with being on time."
No Thanks, I Already Have a Penguin
Here's a brief discussion of the phrase that points out the subtle
differences in usage:
We have read your report and have issues with the way you have
analyzed the data.
'to have issues'' can be used in two different ways. In the sense in
the above example and url, it is having some disagreement with the
subject. In this sense, a plural use is fine (as in both examples).
Alternatively, 'to have issues' can also refer to personal
psychological baggage, and is usually therefore about individuals
(e.g. nightboat.blogspot.com), but I wouldn't rule out families with
Link Everything Online
In any case, many dictionaries have noticed the new meanings of
"A misgiving, objection, or complaint: had issues with the plan to
change the curriculum...
Informal. A personal problem or emotional disorder: The teacher
discussed the child's issues with his parents.
Here is a very entertaining article about the "newspeak" use of the
The Holland Sentinel
The most amusing thing I came across while researching this issue (or
perhaps I should say, this "issue" issue) was a page which, under the
heading "Euphemisms: the cowardly subspecies of loathsome words,"
described the slang use of "issue" as "blame-deflecting psychobabble."
I certainly won't take issue with that.
Regarding the matter of whether issues are more problematic than hang
ups, this is a judgment call. Many young folks today seem to be so
preoccupied with their problems that they take a perverse delight in
them. When I was a college student, in the 1960s, "hang ups" were
something to be avoided and outgrown. I get the feeling that today's
"issues" are something to be cultivated, as if the presence of a
multitude of "issues" may indicate great sensitivity and depth. But
that may be just my wrinkles speaking. ;-)
Search terms used:
"have issues" + "slang"
"have an issue" + "slang"
"issue meaning problem"
"problems as issues"
This was a most enjoyable question to research. If anything I've said
is unclear, or if a link doesn't work for you, please request
clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance before you
rate my answer.
Best wishes (and no issues)