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Updated Sep 10, 2019 at 06:43AM EDT by Y F.

Added May 11, 2015 at 07:21PM EDT by Pat Bateman.

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Problematic is term used to indicate that something is troubling, bothersome or questionable. Online, the word is often associated with identity politics and social justice blogging as a catch-all label for anything deemed bigoted or offensive.


According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,[4] the term problematic was adopted from the French term problematique during the 1600s as a synonym for "doubtful" or "questionable." In the 1960s, use of the term "problematic" increased dramatically according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer[5] (shown below).

0.00160%1 0.00140% 0.00120% 0.00100% 0.00080% 0.00060% . 0.00040% 0.00020% 0.00000% + problematic 1800 1820 1840 1860 1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980 2000 (click on line/label for focus)

On August 2nd, 2003, the blog Deeply Problematic[6] was launched, which describes itself as "a feminist blog that seeks to examine and analyze the treatment of problematized bodies in society and the media."


On May 18th, 2011, a definition for the word "problematic" was posted to the Urban Dictionary[1] website, defining it as "a corporate-academic weasel word" for anything viewed as oppressive and a term "used in progressive political settings" to describe material deemed "racist" or "sexist" (shown below).

TOP DEFINITION problematic A corporate-academic weasel word used mainly by people who sense that something may be oppressive, but don't want to do any actual thinking about what the problem is or why it exists. Also frequently used in progressive political settings among White People of a Certain Education to avoid using herd-frightening words like "racist" or "sexist." I don't know, something about SlutWalk seems highly problematic to me. by Scott & Hyacinth May 18, 2011 558 75

On December 31st, 2013, Gawker published an article listing "problematic" as one of the year's "worst words." On September 25th, 2014, the pop culture blog The Awl published an article titled "The Internet Has a Problem(atic)", which outlined the online history of the term toward becoming a "shorthand for self-serious identity politics." Additionally, the article claims the term's shift toward becoming a political buzzword came during the emergence of identity politics in the 1960s and post-structuralism in the 1970s. On February 18th, 2015, YouTuber tunging19Blogs uploaded a review of the film 50 Shades of Grey, which accused the film of being "problematic" (shown below, left). On June 21st, YouTuber Evan Edinger uploaded a video titled "On Being Problematic," in which he criticizes using the term "problematic" as a demonizing political label (shown below, right).

Problematic Fave

“Problematic Fave” is an expression used to describe popular celebrities or fictional characters that have been accused of some form of prejudice or bigotry. The phrase was popularized by the "Your Face is Problematic" Tumblr blog in March 2013, which features blog posts about various celebrities along with examples of gaffes, jokes or public statements that are perceived as “problematic”.

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External References

[1] Urban Dictionary – problematic

[2] Gawker – The Years Worst Words Are So Problematic

[3] The Awl – The Problem With Problems

[4] Online Etymology Dictionary – problematic

[5] Google Ngram Viewer – problematic

[6] Deeply Problematic – Deeply Problematic

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