Impact Has Lost Its Impact

June 11, 2019 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment


I heard someone use the word affect on the 6:00 news last night. I almost fell out of my recliner. Not an easy trick.

I’d been preparing to post an R.I.P. blog piece about the sad demise of many valuable verbs, of which affect is one. Other M.I.A. action words include influence, improve, change, shape, enhance, magnify, involve, sway, disrupt, disturb. The list could go on.

The point is that all of these perfectly lovely, clearly descriptive verbs have incrementally been replaced over the past few decades by a single, often jarringly misapplied, word, the aforementioned impact.

Typing i-m-p-a-c-t into your thesaurus window on MS Word won’t yield any equivalent predicates. Impact is denoted as a noun only, equivalent to such other nouns as crash, collision, shock, bang, blow, force, contact, brunt, impression.

My personal definition carries a distinct mental image of a force-driven object colliding with a more stationary one and leaving a dent. Think fender-bender. So I checked out Merriam Webster to see if that revered old lady of references agrees with me or with common usage, then held my breath as I read:

1a : to fix firmly by or as if by packing or wedging
b : to press together
2a : to have a direct effect or impact on : impinge on
b : to strike forcefully also : to cause to strike forcefully

Here, they do allow its use as a verb. But as you can see, it’s a verb with a highly specific meaning. Like, the sort of action that might very well have a subject leaving a dent in its object.

Journalist and former NBC News correspondent Edwin Newman forewarned of a budding problem with impact back in 1974. His fascinating book, Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English?, critiques the decline and abuse of the English language in great detail.

I’ll admit that my past experience as a nursing home aide figures in to my  alertness to this particular verbal corruption; in the medical context, being impacted describes a decidedly undesirable condition. But I am mostly driven by a reverence for language. How in the world did we ever develop this bizarre compulsion to apply the term to every action which can be shown to have a result? On anything. Or anyone.

I blame the Lazy Language Lemmings in the “professional” media, following the leader in the latest Conga line of regrettable trends. But just maybe, if a few of us can raise awareness, we can stem the tide. Redirect the drift. Even make a small dent in this large problem.*

*I was tempted to close with the too-obvious, If we take notice, band together, and champion the cause, surely we can impact this situation. But then I would have had to set fire to my keyboard. And burning plastic creates such a stench.

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