Myth Buster: Never Use “Impact” as a Verb
I’m really not on a mission to stamp out Grammar Naziism. It’s a cause unworthy of that kind of devotion. But I came across an article today that bothered me just enough to provoke this post.
The title, which caught my attention, is “8 Common Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again.” It was a short article written with typical self-assurance and a hint of self-righteousness. Of the eight issues the author addresses, I have no objections to three of them, two are oversimplified and therefore misleading, and three are just plain wrong. Here’s the one I found most grammarrogant:
Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something.
She of course offers no support for this position. We are simply to take her word for it. But in just seconds Google demonstrates that every popular online dictionary lists a legitimate verb use of impact. That includes at least Merriam-Webster, MacMillan, American Heritage, Dictionary.com, and The Free Dictionary.
Of those, Merriam-Webster lists the verb form first. American Heritage and The Free Dictionary both include usage notes pointing out that lexical panelists strongly disapprove of the verb use of impact, but both editors express bewilderment at the animosity aroused by this word and point to the long history of impact as a verb.
No word research would be complete without referencing the grandaddy of them all — the Oxford English Dictionary. And the OED aligns with the others, pointing out that impact has been used as a verb in print since at least the early 1600s. In fact — check this out — it was a verb before it was a noun.
That’s the key to understanding the problem people have with it, I think. They mistakenly assume that it’s an example of verbification. In fact, I assumed the same thing until I did some actual research. And people often object to verbification, especially in the corporate world or when it creates ugly or unnecessary words (like disincentivize, solutioning, or anonymize). But this isn’t the case with impact, which, according to American Heritage, was used as a verb for more than a hundred years before the noun usage emerged in the late 1700s.
But even if it were the other way around, there’s no cause for objection. All kinds of common verbs today are converted nouns, including mail, sleep, stop, and mutter. No one is concerned about those. Why pick on impact?
Maybe we’ll never know. The truth is, I tend to prefer other words to impact — affect and influence usually seem like better options to me. But I suspect I’ve just subconsciously absorbed the pervasive anti-impact bias among grammar geeks. I may start using it more often just to fight my prejudice.
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