If I were in charge of the dictionary . . .

I would toss it with great force at the next person who says “impactful.” Apparently this is the new word of choice to describe anything that the news reader or weather forecaster feels will be: important, serious, grave, looming, highly effective, critical, dangerous, or make major short or long term changes to a situation.

Dictionaries have become descriptive more than proscriptive these days, and English changes. I understand that every-day usage shifts quickly. However, “impactful” grates on my ear. It comes from overuse of “impact,” which until about 20 or so years ago most often meant 1) striking something with great force, such as a meteorite impacting the planet, or 2) when the contents of the bowel became compressed and formed a partial or complete obstruction (an impaction).

Impact came to be a synonym for effect, and has never sounded quite right. Perhaps because it is so overused. I hear and read “impact” far more than “effect,” especially in official documents. One person I asked said that “impact sounds stronger, is more meaningful” than effect. “This policy will have far reaching impacts on previously underserved communities . . . ” Whether the writer/speaker has the same mental image as this listener – that of a large rock slamming into an unsuspecting neighborhood – I leave to the imagination.

As if impact for effect were not sufficient, two years ago or so “impactful” moved into spoken English. It grates. For one thing, if impact is a verb, then adding “-ful” makes no grammatical sense. “He was runful.” “The event was crashful.” If impact is a noun, or used as a noun, the construction still sounds and reads awkwardly to me. Careful, thoughtful, mindful, all refer to intangible states. In most usages, “impactful” refers to a large physical result. “The tornadic thunderstorm will be impactful.”

Yes, I’m a fuddy-duddy when it comes to certain usages. English has so many wonderful words, that can be used so precisely, that sloppy neologisms grate on my ear.

However, I will grant the news reader “The falling rocks had a great impact on traffic on Highway [redacted].” Yes, yes, I do believe that they did.


13 thoughts on “If I were in charge of the dictionary . . .

  1. Yea, in the year the pretender sits upon the eagle throne and his heir is consumed by depravity, words shall lose their meaning. Punctuation shall be stricken. And students shall resent the imposition of knowledge.
    Verily, even should important truths be imported with the impact of large rocks, they will not need the warning and turn from their wicked ways.

  2. The smartass in me wants to think of “impactful” using the second definition for impact. A seriously clogged pipe (or colon, considering the people who use the term) *would* be impactfull. (Using the extra ‘l’ for additional snark.)

    Beware the Ides of March and avoid impacts with rocks or stabby things.

  3. Sigh…this one is a scourge here in the DC area (ESPECIALLY among “officials”), and has been for at least three years. I’m sorry it has made its way so far west.

    • This is what comes from hiring only graduates of the top-tier schools, doubly so for any with a non-hard science or engineering degree. I also regret the impacts caused by this insidious language destruction. I tried, though – some years back, I was ‘selected’ to be part of a lab panel examining workforce improvement. When the goal of increasing hires for Ivy and other Tier 1 institutions came up, I asked the assembled managers in the group: just how many of your best people came from good state schools, like the ‘public Ivies’? Their best people turned out to have good tech skills, and at least reasonably good, non-jargon writing ability. The lead pipe made quite an impact on someone’s spokes. As a side effect, I was ‘selected’ for far fewer panels like this.

  4. The new stupidity is everywhere. The latest Abomination unto Nuggan that I’ve run across is the use of “dice” as the singular, with “dies” as the plural.

  5. Sigh… Really? What is happening to our ‘version’ of Engrish is it being overrun by the idjits on the left…

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