Negatively Affected, Almost Impacted

I give up. Give in. Surrender. Capitulate. Take your pick and whatever synonym you choose will be okay by me—as long as it truly is a synonym. To my woe, there is a certain pairing that people think are synonyms, yet they are not. As an English major and an editor for a global financial firm (the views expressed herein are my own), I have fought the good fight. Yet, at some point, a rational person may find it necessary to weigh the odds and, when appropriate, gracefully concede. This is my concession speech.

Language can change like shifting sands. (Photo by Larry Garland)

Most of us try to mind our “Ps” and “Qs,” and we have pet peeves about those who don’t. The peeve that I own and love to pet is a hairy little beauty: correct usage of “affected” versus “impacted.” My dictionary informs me that the thing most likely to be “impacted” is a bad tooth. Consequently, every time I hear someone say, “It impacted me horribly,” my teeth hurt. Impacted has a meaning that is practically literal: “packed or wedged in” says my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. So where did this idea come from—the notion that “impacted” substitutes for “affected?”

I suspect people think impacted expresses a stronger sentiment. It doesn’t. If you told me a hurricane impacted someone’s life, I’d be apt to ask what item the wind slammed into the flesh of that unfortunate person. Granted, that’s a stronger image than affected, but that doesn’t mean it works as a substitute. Affected is a perfectly useful, clear and appropriate word. If you desire for it to be better outfitted, then feel free to dress it up: make it “very affected” or “highly affected” or even “sadly affected” if the shoe fits, but “impacted?” Really? That’s like putting an Easter bonnet on a kitten and perambulating it all around town. It’s cute when a child does it, but let’s be adults here.

Still, it’s maddening as to the sheer number of–supposedly well educated people who are suddenly feeling impacted by all sorts of things. Poor fellows, I hope they survive the surgery to remove the foreign objects. Even the elite are now falling prey. Today, I heard a former Secretary of State abuse that poor little word—I witnessed it happen right there on national television! Even some authors have skidded down that slippery slope. All this makes me wonder what a person who strives to write well—such as yours truly, though, admittedly, sometimes failing—is supposed to do?

It’s in vogue these days to blame government for most of our woes. With that meme in mind, there is another possible explanation as to why so many in this country now abuse this simple and defenseless little utterance. A secondary, acceptable usage of impacted, again according to Merriam-Webster, is this: “of, relating to, or being an area (as a school district) providing tax-supported services to a population having a large proportion of federal employees and esp. those living or working on tax-exempt federal property.” That’s a mouthful, so an example is offered: “aid to education in impacted areas.” Aha. “Impacted” not “affected” areas. Darn those federals. There they go again trying to corrupt us. They took an innocent little word and confused it. That overstepping of established boundaries and relentless push for ever-more power makes me want to rebel, to show the feds just how I feel. Show them my independence by hanging on to “affected” as traditionally used, just as the Almighty intended.

Careful—a slippery slope could be lurking anywhere. (Photo by Larry Garland)

Besides, I can’t let my peeve die. I can’t put down a dear pet. My love for the breed—look at all that personality—is just too great. Maybe it would help if I give it a playmate. Isn’t it wrong—or at least sad—to have it live all alone? There’s this breed called “latest” that I’ve thought about bringing into the fold. Note that’s not the “very latest,” since there can be nothing later than the latest. “Very latest” developments, for example, are as rare as unicorns. News reporters claim to spot them all the time, yet we know they are only mythological creatures. Latest is latest; that’s what being a superlative means.

It feels good to know I’ll finally have a pair of pet peeves to keep each other company.  Sorry, but I withdraw my concession.

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