So Sorry to Hear That You Were Impacted!

By Maeve Maddox

Reader Ron Harper, Jr. wonders about the use of the word impacted:

I used a word today and immediately questioned my use and the history of word over the last decade or so.  The word was “impacted.”  As in “That incident really impacted me.”   Is that a correct usage historically?  It seems that it’s not correct as soon as I said it although I hear people use it that way!  (but how many talking heads use irregardless?!)

The use of the past participle impacted to mean “had an impact on” is fairly recent.

The original sense of impact (v.) is “to press closely into something, It’s from Latin impactus, pp of impingere, “to push into.” The word Impinge comes from the same source.

The form impacted has until recently been used to describe something that is closely wedged together. Teeth, for example, can be impacted. A bone that has been crushed can have impacted fragments. Other things not nice to mention can be impacted.

Coleridge used impact in 1817 as a noun to mean “the effect of coming into contact with a thing or a person. Ex: That had an impact on him.

Nowadays the noun impact is also seen in the plural in the context of various occupations:

impacts – A measure of viewing to advertisements. One impact is equivalent to one viewer watching one 30-second advertising spot.

impacts – Effects of pressures on the status of surface water and groundwater

impacts – The significant consequences of a government program activity, either intended or unintended, and either positive or negative.

The earliest recorded use of the verb impact to mean “to strike forcefully against something” dates from 1916. If something can be said to impact something, then the participle use is sure to follow.

Like so many shortcut words beloved by headline writers, impacted in place of “had an impact on” is here to stay:

Has the Economy Impacted Your Earnings?

How space exploration has impacted our health

How Globalization Has Impacted Labor

How football hooliganism has negatively impacted the sport …

Nevertheless, I find it disconcerting. When I hear someone say, “That really impacted me,” I have the mental image of a body all mashed in on itself.

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5 Responses to “So Sorry to Hear That You Were Impacted!”

  • Precise Edit

    In grant writing and project evaluation, we ask the question “What is the impact of ___ on ___, and how will we measure the impact?”

    This is a questionable use, I agree, but we understand what we mean: “What will change, and how will we know?”

  • Brad K.

    The one I dread hearing is from the dentist. “Your left rear upper molar is impacted.” Drill, root canal, eek!

  • Ed Buckner

    I work in environmental management and the term “impact” is used very often. It has become synonymous with, even replacing, the word “affect.” “What is the expected impact on the environment from this project?” That makes it sound like catastrophe is expected, but the expected impact might be a 1.4% decrease in the woodchuck population in a four mile radius. ISO 14000 environmental management systems use impact as a clearly defined term, but I suspect it was an engineer, not a linguist, that chose the term. I don’t like it, but it is what we have.

  • Hugh Ashton

    To me, “impact” is too often simple MBA BS for “result”, along with “leverage” for use.

  • G

    “Impactful”- From the b.s. vocabulary book of the self important, fluent in meaningless business speak. Common among marketing folks, people who call themselves journalists, and people who watch too much TV (“if someone on TV used the word, the usage must be correct.”)

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