or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 21, 2005

Impact with the Devil

I heard "incentivize" on television this evening. Do I really have to explain to anyone just how horrible this coinage is?

I blame businesspeople, for whom one long unwieldy word is better than a few simple ones. Rather than use a serviceable two- or three-word phrase, they do their best to bastardize the language by hybridizing words in ways which, while valid under the rules (we do convert some nouns into verbs by affixing "-ize"), sound unpleasant and made-up.

And this brings me to "impact" as a verb. Thanks so much, businesspeople.

"Impact" has a history as a verb, and an interesting one. If you say it aloud a few times you might guess that it was once the past participle of "impack", which is to say "pack into", using the standard "im-" prefix we use to replace "in-" where it sounds better. Before "-ed" came to be the standard past-participial ending, "-t" served its purpose in such words as "spelt", which still exists as a variant of "spelled", and likewise "burnt" and the unfortunately obsolete "yclept". "Impact" has its uses as, in its literal sense, a transitive verb and as its related adjective; a tooth may be impacted, and a blunt object may impact the head of some unwary businessdrone. But, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, the metaphorical use of "impact" is bad and ugly and wrong.

Why should we have to endure such constructions as "How will this impact on sales?" or, and I can't decide which is worse, "How will this impact sales?" "Impact" is a potent word, but in this setting it's so weak and passive it's hardly even there. They might as well say, "How will this, like, you know, do sales?"

Even in its original transitive form it's taken on a new life of its own, and what a sad, flabby sort of life that is. I once saw the usage "The downed airline impacted a row of houses" and almost wept; couldn't the writer have found another word, any other word, that would express the thought more vividly? "Struck"? "Demolished"? "Smashed into"?

I've seen in a business memo--I kept it to prove it exists--the word "impactful", and if you Google "impactfulness", you'll see that people have decided they could get some mileage out of that, too. Any day now I expect to see "unimpactfulness" (I didn't have the heart to Google it), and then maybe "impactation" and--why not?--"impactable". It's enough to make you want to Krazy Glue your eyes shut.


Blogger Frank said...

Pyramus: You might be interested in a book called Junk English by a guy called Ken Smith. He writes about this kind of coinage and the other ways businesspeople and PR people bastardize English. It's right up your alley.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005 3:08:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I went to my local Chapters bookstore yesterday--day off work--and they didn't have it, nor its sequel, "Junk English 2", so I suppose I'll have to mail-order them. They do sound right up my alley.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 5:52:00 AM  

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