In Defense of the Word “Impact”

I’m ashamed to admit that I defended a word on Facebook recently.  Yes, a word.  And not a grand word, or even a horribly controversial word (at least not to the general public), but a word nonetheless.  What’s the word that got me going?  Impact.  Yes, a word that people often associate with meteors and teeth.

Meteor image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net, contributor manostphoto, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1816

I’ve now encountered a total of two academics who dislike the word impact, who think it is “harsh” and even “ugly.”  Who thought a word can be ugly?  Not me until my recent online encounter.  I’ll provide an abridged transcript for your entertainment.  My friend’s original post was actually about a different, yet equally nerdy, topic—the misuse of semi-colons.  Amidst the discussions of inept semi-colon usage, my conversation emerged.

A: doesn’t trust a document in which an author misuses a semi-colon.

B: I try to stop reading if a writer uses “impact” (or even worse, “impactful”) because they’re too lazy to figure out if they mean effect or affect. (One FB “like.”)

A: I can never remember if it’s affect or effect (mental block) but I promise I’m not that lazy!

B: And I often can’t remember what nonplussed means!

Me: I’d like to speak up in defense of impact. I think it can be a great word choice. And I know the difference between e/a 🙂

B: I think that impact has two proper uses: describing what hammers do, and describing what happens to teeth.

Me: As valid as your uses of it are, the Oxford English Dictionary supports a wider use of the term. The second definition listed is: Now commonly the effective action of one thing or person upon another; the effect of such action; influence; impression. Esp. in phr. to make an impact (on).

Me: And I’ll add that the verb definitions of impact have a range of meanings, too 🙂 Now, I will sit here depressed knowing that I’ve actually defended a word on FB. (sigh)

A: I love this entire thread. It elevates geekdom to a whole new level. I think we’re making it a sport. (One FB “like”)

B: I don’t think using impact in a non-literal way is ungrammatical. I just think it’s ugly and unnecessary. Am pleased to have goaded you into defending a word on facebook.

B: Oddly, I have very strong feelings about impact, but split infinitives don’t bother me at all.

Me: Ugly, really??? But you are ok with split infinitives? I find it amusing that you have such strong feelings about the “ugliness” of a word. And again, I’m questioning why I’m discussing word choice on FB. Perhaps my cheese has slipped of my cracker….

C: I’m enjoying this thread so much! (Two FB “likes”)

B: (To Me) touché.

By all accounts, that threat was ridiculous.  Afterall, the discussion didn’t take place at a writer’s conference, or even in the confines of a university writing center.  It took place on Facebook—a social media and networking site.  And one of my friends admits to not reading writing that uses a word s/he considers ugly.  Ahh, what judgmental readers we can be.

But regardless of the thread’s absurdity, it points to something that which all writers should be aware: the importance of proper word choice and correct grammar.  I’m amazed at the outpouring of pet peeves that come to the surface on Facebook when someone brings up grammar.  I recently learned about the common misuse of “hopeful” and “hopefully.”  If I were on trial, I’d have to place myself at the mercy of the court.

Writers will never please all their readers, and perhaps they shouldn’t even try.  Where’s the fun in that?  At  the end of the day, and end of the Facebook thread, I walked away knowing that I will continue to use a word some people hate.  And I’m okay with that.  I’m also okay with keeping this post anonymous!

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