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‘The decision and the opinions will be impactful,’ said Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, which has supported the school districts in the lower courts.”

Jim Lynch writes: “Note the use of ‘impactful.’ Really now! For years I have been annoyed by people changing the noun ‘impact’ to a verb, and now this!”

The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style feels as strongly about impact as Lynch does. Originally, impact (pronounced IM-pact) was a noun meaning “a violent contact or a striking of an object against another, or the force or shock of that contact or striking together,” Penguin says. Then it began to be misused as a synonym for effect, influence, result, etc., as in “The floods will have a very small impact on prices.”

“Strictly speaking, ‘a very small impact’ is a contradiction,” Penguin says. “Use impact to suggest violence or power in the way things come together.”

Already weakened, impact was further abused by being forced into illegitimate verbhood, as in “The question is how the downtown ballpark will impact our already congested streets and highways.” The verb should be affect, not impact, Penguin says, and the only correct use of impact as a verb is “to squash something or to press things together tightly, the way a garbage truck impacts garbage.” In that case, the word is pronounced im-PACT rather than IM-pact.

And finally Penguin gets to the latest outrage: “On a radio talk show, a lawyer presented the type of final argument that he thought the prosecution should make in a current murder trial. The hostess responded with an adjectival creation, ‘It’s an impactful statement to have been made,’ as though the misuse of the i-word as a noun and a verb were not enough.”

I share the Lynch-Penguin concerns, but to be fair, I have to report that not everyone does. The Random House Dictionary says that the verb impact (pronounced IM-pact), meaning “to have an impact or effect on,” is, though recent, now “entirely standard.” Random House does not recognize impactful, however, and neither does my spellchecker. Maybe we can hold the line there. Probably not.


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