Recently, over I-don’t-know-how-many-years, maybe ten, the word “impact” has become a verb. It’s now commonplace to hear how something “impacted” something else. We even hear it used on the usually staid evening news. We hear how a hurricane “impacted” a state or town. We hear how new federal regulations will “impact” our daily lives. The use of the term “affect,” or its almost identical twin “effect,” has been replaced by “impact.” Do you remember the difference between affect and effect? Affect is a verb, in the sense of “to affect someone or something.” Effect is a noun, as “the effects of fluoride on dental caries.” But now, impact has replaced both in a number of situations, partly, I suspect, because impact can be used as either a noun or a verb.
At first, I was against the use of “impact” in this way. I figured, if we’ve got two perfectly good words that can be used in place of “impact” and are well-known and well-characterized, why change? But there’s a subtle contrast in the definition of the word “impact” between it and the affect/effect duo. That contrast has to do with intensity. Impact is stronger in its meaning. It’s used when the speaker or writer wants to show a heavier “impact,” rather than a simple “effect.” A tornado has an “impact.” A gentle breeze has an “effect.” That may be because impact has always carried with it the image of collision, or force, or a real punch or shock. (This is getting tricky; it’s hard to define “impact” without using “effect” or “affect.” And vice-versa.)
Now I’m coming around to being more accepting of the use of the word “impact” in situations where a speaker or writer wants to show a strong force. “Affect” and “effect” may go out of style, but I suspect they will be relegated to milder situations. In my writing, I will probably still use the older two, perhaps because I’m so used to them. But “impact” may have a big impact (effect?) on the writing of others. The wave of the future.
I wonder, though, about the term “affectations.” Will we eventually have “impactations”?
But don’t get me started on the word “impactful.”