The Grammarphobia Blog

Impacted wisdom

Q: I tried to call you on the radio about the misuse of the word “impact,” but I couldn’t get through. More and more, I hear “impact” used as a verb meaning to affect. This sounds just awful to me. It isn’t correct, is it?

A: The word “impact” has been used since the beginning of the 17th century as a verb meaning to pack together or wedge in or press down. (That’s where our old friend the impacted wisdom tooth comes from!) Since the early 20th century, “impact” has also meant to collide forcefully with something.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that it began meaning to affect. Many authorities frown on this usage. I find it to be particularly obnoxious in the past tense: “My bunion negatively impacted my performance in the marathon.” What’s wrong with “hurt”?

I believe “impact” should be used only as a noun, and “impacted” only in reference to dental work. Most usage experts agree.

That said, I have to admit that many dictionaries now accept “impact” as a verb meaning to have an effect on or to affect. Perhaps this explains why so many people who don’t know the difference between “effect” and “affect” resort to “impact.”

The “impact” entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language includes the disputed meaning, but notes that the dictionary’s Usage Panel strongly disapproves of it.

I may cringe, but “impact” is slowly making its way into the language as a verb meaning to have an affect or impact on. That doesn’t mean WE have to use it that way. I hope I don’t sound too cranky!

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