The Impressive Range of “Impress”

By Mark Nichol

Impress has various meanings, both literal and figurative. This post explorers those senses and the meanings of various words in which impress is the root.

Impress is derived from the Latin verb premere, meaning “press” and the source of press in all its senses. It usually is a verb and can mean “imprint by applying pressure” or “affect significantly.” (It is also a synonym for transfer and transmit.) One can impress a design onto an object using heat or physical pressure, such as by branding or stamping, and one can impress another person by performing an action the other person considers impactful or meaningful. One can also do or say something to impress on another person the significance of a fact or opinion.

Another sense of impress is “force or take by force,” as in the case of sailors or soldiers enlisted against their will or someone coerced or pressured into undertaking an action or a task.

However, impress is also a noun, though its use as such is not as common as its employment as a verb. An impress is an imprint or a stamp or seal, an effect, or an act of forcing such as one of those described in the previous paragraph. The act, however, is usually referred to as impressment.

An impression is an effect of, or a feeling based on, an action or an imprint or mark on an object or an act such as imprinting or marking. The word also refers to a first coat of ink or paint or the amount of pressure with which it is applied, or the entirety of a set of printed materials produced in one batch. It also pertains to an imitation of a recognizable person that exploits well-known traits such as a unique voice or distinctive mannerisms; one is said to do an impression of someone else, and a person who routinely does impressions for entertainment purposes is called an impressionist.

Impressionist also refers to an artist who creates visual art, literature, or music intended to capture feelings instead of details or represents impressions of reality rather than reality itself. In painting, the term is often capitalized, and the art form is called Impressionism.

The adjective pertaining to the artist sense is impressionistic. Two other adjectives stemming from impress but distinct from impressionistic and each other in meaning are impressive and impressionable. The former means “eliciting admiration or awe,” while the former means “tending to be easily influenced” and usually pertains to children or young people who have not yet acquired critical-thinking skills, though it may also apply, in a pejorative sense, to adults who are insufficiently skeptical. The less common adjective impressible, however, applies to the sense of imprinting.

The noun impresario, referring to a conductor, manager, promoter, or sponsor of an entertainment event or series, is unrelated; taken directly from Italian, it derives ultimately from the Latin verb prehendere, meaning “seize” (also the source of apprehend, comprehend, and prehensile).

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1 Response to “The Impressive Range of “Impress””

  • Dale A. Wood

    I have been looking/thinking for more words (adjectives or nouns, including archaic ones) of a human geographical nature to along with “Ukraine” and “Tennessean”, and I have made some progress:
    Going along with The Ukraine and The Argentine are “Philippine” (adjective), “Byzantine” (adjective, as in the Byzantine Empire), and “Philistine” (noun and adjective).
    The Philistines were “bad guys” of the Old Testament, including Goliath, and I think that Samson also fought against the Philistines.
    In the present times, and uncouth and ill-mannered person is called a “Philistine” (as well as “Barbarian”, “Berserker”, “Cossack”, “Hun”, “Mongol”, “Mongrel”, “Saracen”, “Sicilian”, “Turk”, and fourscore more names).

    Going along with Argentinean and Tennessean are these:
    Chaldean, Mediterranean, Pythagorean, Korean, Azorean, Guinean, New Guinean, Atlantean (from the mythical/mystical Atlantis),
    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis
    and maybe “Medean” (from Medes), but “Mede” also works.
    “Median” has a completely different meaning because this is a prominent term in the science of statistics.
    People from Atlanta, Georgia, are Atlantans and not Atlanteans.
    D.A.W.

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