Friday, January 31, 2014

Words that Should Be Banned: "Impactful"

I'm starting a new and occasional series of posts on this blog about words vying for legitimacy which should, on the contrary, be eliminated from the language as soon as possible. The need for this increases the more the cultural barbarians assert their new found influence.

George Orwell once pointed out that it is not only true that the decadence of our civilization has bad effects on language, but that decadent language has bad effects on culture:
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
In other words, saving language helps save civilization. So I have selected a word I heard just today, care of Michelle Obama, although it is hardly limited to the liberal lexicon. In fact, I just heard it the other day from a conservative radio talk show host. The word is ...

"Impactful."

Just typing it gives me the willies. Here's the Urban Dictionary's entry on this "word" (which I place in quotation marks to underscore the tentative nature of its status as an actual word):
"Impactful": A non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is. This term is most frequently used in "team building" seminars and conferences in which said drones discuss the most effective ways to convince consumer zombies to purchase crap they clearly do not need or even want.
"Team building." Ugh. There's another one that needs to go.

When I hear a person use the term "impactful" my first thought is that he has read a few too many bureaucratic memos written by unimaginative people who, instead of reading competent literature, spend their time reading cheesy success books with titles like How to Maximize your Success Through Positive Habits. Or maybe that the person just doesn't read a all.

"Impactful" is a word created by taking a noun ("impact") and adding a suffix ("ful"), making it an adjective. This can work, but often it does not. If you just don't have an ear for words (and anyone using a word like this is demonstrating that he doesn't), then ask yourself, "Does the expression that results from taking the word back apart and using it as a full expression sound right?" In other words, does it sound right to say, "full of impact"?

How can something be "full of impact"? By its very nature "impact" can only refer to the effect some one thing has on another. One thing "has an impact" on another. But nothing can be "full of impact" and therefore nothing can be "impactful."

Whenever the urge comes upon you to use this fake word, ask yourself whether there is not another word which expresses your thought better. I submit that there is no case in which another word, such as "effective," "meaningful," "constructive," or "significant" would express the thought better. Oh, and don't replace it with "affecting," which is another word that needs to be banned.

Now that I have had to use this word several times, I feel like taking a shower. So if you'll excuse me ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Teaching my daughter to drive was impactful, and profitable for the body shop.