Grammar Guerrilla: Impact, Impactful, And Other Monsters

karloff-frankensteinNot only is impact being widely abused now I hear the verbal Frankenstein impactful. There are alternatives. An impact occurs when  when two cars collide. The word that is usually wanted is influence as in, “Her writing had an influence on the recovery of good grammar.” When sportscasters and talk show hosts use impact (“He’s had a real impact on the game”) what they really want is influence. “He’s had an influence on the outcome of the game.” The problem with the use of impact for influence is that the metaphor is wrong. A player changes the course of a game by participating in it not merely by running himself into other players. A cornerback will impact necessarily the running back when he makes a tackle and that play may well influence the outcome of the game.

Adding the intensifier —ful to impact only makes a bad situation worse. Urban Meyer has not been impactful at Ohio State but he has been influential on their return to success and he’s been essential to their national championship season. Frankenstein’s monster was a freak, parts of various bodies sewn together to make something not quite human. So it is with the new adjective impactful. “To impact” is a legitimate verb and the noun impact exists but the faux adjective impactful is unnecessary and vague. “The new Cubs GM Cubs been impactful” tells the reader nothing. It is a waste of pixels and time. The adjective influential actually does the job quite well. Significant would also fit well as in, “His defense was a significant part of the second-half surge by the Cornhuskers.”

It is worrying than the apparently widespread abuse of impact and the unfortunate creation of impactful will make use influence and influential seem stuffy. Let’s hope that this post has a significant influence in causing HB readers to abandon the abuse of impact and the use of impactful.

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  1. conveying meaning incisively is a lost art. This lacuna is exacerbated by the passive nature of the media..TV is a cool medium and alas is conducive to doggerel not cohesive thought. your post was quite ” impactful ” Dr. Scott…;-)

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