Words are Important

True confessions: I’ve yet to read 1984 by George Orwell. It wasn’t on my high school reading list. I think I should read it because the idea of newspeak as portrayed in the novel seems prophetic. I’m currently reading Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. After a bleak beginning Marilyn Chandler McEntyre gives twelve word stewardship strategies. Strategy number 1 is Love words. I do love words. But I also hate some words. I think that is ok. Here is my argument.

Languages change over time. We need new words to talk about new things. An automobile is a relatively new thing, so a new word was coined for the invention. Some other words and phrases around the new horseless carriage sprang up, and some fell quickly by the wayside. A century later in North America we mostly talk about cars. All this to say that change happens.

There is a new word floating around which is unnecessary, and, I think, is another pompous attempt by some people to sound like they know what they are talking about. The word? Impactful. I hate the very sound of it.

This word is unnecessary. You can use other words in its place. If you need to have the connotation of an impact (smack!) than you can say that something had an impact on the other thing. If you mean that something was actually influential, then say that. When you say “impactful” it sounds like you have no idea what you actually mean.

There is some opinion that “impactful” is here to stay. I hope in 25 years we will think of it as a temporary and minor aberration in the history of English. After all, if the revered website “Urban Dictionary” says that impactful is a fake, it must be true. And fake words go away after a while. Right?

By the way, if you include the word “impactful” in written work that I grade, that word will have a negative impact on your grade.

[This web-post was inspired by listening to some academics talk. Their use of vocabulary influenced me to write about using words well.]


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