Did you know that the most-used definition of problematic–namely, “constituting or causing difficulty”–only dates from around the 1960s?? I didn’t! But as it turns out, that use is directly taken from a word coined for use in sociology. So what, you may ask, did the word mean before that?
Well, rather than insinuating “difficulty,” problematic used to mean something was in need of discussion. It has meant “doubtful, uncertain, unsettled” since the 1600s. It is in fact from the Greek word problema, which literally means “to put forward” [for discussion]. Hence math problems, which aren’t difficult necessarily (don’t argue with me, LOL– 2 + 2 is a problem), but are in need of solution.
So there we have it! We shouldn’t use problematic unless we could replace it with “uncertain.”
This is so cool! You always find the best nuggets about words.