Tag Archives: English usage

You can’t argue with the dictionary …

…. but you can try

If there’s one word guaranteed to get me shouting at the radio, the TV and even, on occasion, at the computer screen it’s the word impact. Affect I scream. The economy has been affected by the banking crisis. Or, if you must, the banking crisis has had an impact on the current economic downturn. Not, please not, the economy has been impacted by the banking crisis. Of course it would be true to say that our economy is one whopping great car crash, but that’s by the bye.

I think it’s the use of the noun impact as a verb that so annoys me. (Before you start screaming, at me, hold on and all will be revealed.) I’m all for breaking the rules of grammar. I’m guilty of starting sentences with and or but and of splitting infinitives. But (there you see) I do know the rules to start with. However, I’m well aware that I don’t know everything and that I have my blind spots. I’m also a thorough person and conscious that, as a writer, I will be picked up on any inaccuracies. So I turned to the dictionary to check.

At first all was well. As I believed, the noun impact means the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another as in there was the sound of a third impact. Yay. Just as I thought. Vindicated. I scrolled down. The word also means the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another: our regional measures have had a significant impact on unemployment. So far so good.

I read on. Only to discover that impact can indeed be used both as a transitive and an intransitive verb. The very examples given in the dictionary are the ones that make me tear my hair out.  An asteroid impacted the earth. High interest rates have impacted on retail spending. And worse the move is not expected to impact the company’s employees.

Bummer. It’s not nice to find that your favourite prejudices have no grammatical foundation. Bummer, bummer and thrice bummer. However, a chink of light appears. There’s ‘A Note’. This mentions that the phrasal verb impact on has been in the language since the 1960s but that many people disapprove of it despite its relative frequency. More to the point it continues by saying that, as a verb, impact rarely carries the noun’s original sense of forceful collision. Careful writers are advised to use more exact verbs that will leave their readers in no doubt about the intended meaning.

Oh dear! This post hasn’t quite turned out the way I meant it to. I set out to rant against the inaccurate use of impact as a verb, safe in the knowledge that I was right. And I’m not.  Not strictly speaking. However, my visceral feelings tell me otherwise. No matter how correct it is, according to the letter of the law, I will always hate the word impact used as a verb. So whether I’m right or wrong, it’s my prejudice and I defend it to the death. As with many of the new shortcuts that have leaked into our language the root cause is both laziness and lack of imagination, coupled with the herd mentality. And just don’t start me off on going forward.

Picture source: creative commons-drweis gerber

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