Yet again, the language usage of my contemporaries has me fuming. (Did I mention that I’m grading lots of essays these days?) Today’s rant is on the correct (and otherwise) usage of the word impact. This word was a question on the quiz that was one of my early posts, but since people aren’t paying attention, I’m giving it a second whack.
Impact means a striking or a collision. As a verb, it to strike or to collide. Some object to using impact as a verb at all, but that doesn’t bother me. What matters is that whenever it is used, impact must involve a blow.
How is the word used incorrectly? Here’s an example, based on many such sentences that I have suffered over the years:
The extension of unemployment benefits will have a positive impact on the economy of the year to come.
Is that so? I can’t imagine how, since our economy doesn’t need any more damage. If a car impacts a wall, neither comes out feeling healthy. As Sancho Panza observed, whether the stone hits the pot or the pot hits the stone, it’s bad for the pot. I fail to see how any impact can be beneficial (positive is a subject for another day) to the object that is struck. Yes, there are situations in which a slap to the face is just what is needed, but we have to be careful about slapping those who deserve it.
The word that these sloppy people need is effect. Other possibilities are influence, alteration, change, and so forth. The problem is that such users of our language want to bellow, but what they have to say warrants only a squeak.
It’s too bad that impact has been abused. I acknowledge that we ought to be able to speak of the emotional impact of a song or movie, for example. Sometimes, emotions can feel like a blow to the chest, and in more careful days, impact was the right word to describe them. Now, though, we have to refrain from using the word, even when we do so correctly, because few seem to understand what it actually means.
Perhaps we can save the situation. Having read this, you now know how to use impact in the proper way. If you don’t, one of these days, Alice, one of these days. . . POW! Right in the kisser!