Impact   Leave a comment

Or, Why We Should Influence and Affect Instead

I take the English language seriously.  When I see a

10 Items of Less

sign in a store, for example, I struggle to resist the temptation to comment that the sign should read

10 Items or Fewer.

Sometimes I choose not to resist the temptation.  I object to confusing “further” and “farther.”  It is not outside my experience to erupt into profanities in private while reading students’ writing in which they have used “it’s” (the contraction of “it is”) in lieu of “its” (a singular possessive pronoun).  I roll my eyes when I hear people say “very unique” of “most unique,” for degrees of uniqueness do not exist.  (For that matter, no woman is ever “very pregnant,” for degrees of pregnancy do not exist either.)  I understand the distinction between the subjective and objective cases well enough to realize that it is whom one knows, not who one knows, that matters.  Oxymorons such as “instant classic” and “new tradition” lead me to conclude that some people do not understand classics and traditions are old-certainly neither instant nor new.  And I cringe when I read or hear “impact” as a verb, in lieu of “influence” or “affect.”  I am a beneficiary of some excellent English teachers.

I realize that language changes.  I know, for example, that “prevent” used to mean “precede.”  It makes sense, after all; the combination of “pre” and “event” gives us “prevent.”  Yet I am no postmodernist.  No, I am an unabashed modernist (in the sense of Enlightenment modernism) with regard to language and other matters.  I affirm that words mean what they mean.  So, for example, when I consult the Merriam-Webster website and read that, according to those linguistic lords, I may use “literally” hyperbolically to mean “figuratively” without being incorrect, I object.  Most dictionaries describe, not proscribe, the meaning of words, as popular culture determines those definitions.  My inner linguistic Federalist chafes against the Jeffersonian Republican character of most dictionaries.

In old dictionaries “impact,” as a verb, means (A) to become wedged in somewhere and (B) to collide with something or someone.  Note, O reader, the physicality of the verb.  The main example of the correct use of “impact” as a verb in media that comes to my mind comes from Endgame (1997), an episode of Babylon 5 (1994-1998).   Captain James, aboard the E.A.S. Agamemnon during the climactic battle against forces loyal to the dictatorial Earth Alliance President William Morgan Clark, shouts that missiles are

impacting on all sides.

I seldom hear and read correct uses of “impact” as a verb, however.

During the last few years I have noticed with much dismay and gnashing of teeth the increased frequency of people using “impact” as a verb (and, by extension, the gerund “impacting”) in popular culture, in casual conversation, on National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corporation, on academic websites, in job descriptions, and in academic writing.  In more than one book (of mine) I have crossed through “impact” and written “influence” or “affect.”  I have also written an anti-impact policy into my college syllabi.  Based on essays I have graded, I have concluded that many students have not read my syllabi.

I enjoy a certain elegance of language and encourage a healthy respect for the English tongue.  The evisceration of English that I have been witnessing for years disturbs me.  Perhaps the best I can do is (A) to encourage the proper use of language and (B) to model that use of English.  I do the best I can.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 30, 2017 COMMON ERA

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This is post #1500 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

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Posted June 30, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Language

Tagged with , ,

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