Posts Tagged definitions

Affect vs. Impact

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  The use of the term “affect,” or its almost identical twin “effect,” has been replaced by “impact.”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 effectAffect 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.”

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Obsolete, Part 2

Two years ago (see my post of 9/14/2014, “Obsolete”) I posted about words that are going out of style.  Words such as “actress” and “comedienne” are disappearing because of the tendency to use one word to refer to both male and female performers.  A female playing a role in a film or on stage is an actor, not an actress.  There are other words that are going out of use or changing their definition, and there must be several of them in the English language.  The one that I’ve been wondering about for several years is the word “depot.”

“Depot” isn’t actually disappearing, but its definition is changing.  There are several dictionary definitions of “depot.”  It can be a place to store goods or motor vehicles, or—and this is a definition I’m most familiar with—it can be a place to store military supplies, such as vehicles.  A “supply depot” is common at a military base.  But most often, especially in civilian life, the term “depot” indicated a place to board a train or bus.  Depots were common all across the United States when travel by railroad was much more common than it is now.  Any town on a rail line had a depot, sometimes combined with the bus depot, though mostly those were separate.  The depot might have been a large building serving several railroads and hundreds of people every day, or a small shack where a only few riders caught the local.

Nowadays, however, rail travel is only a fraction of its former self.  We travel by car or plane or, to a lesser extent, by bus.  Greyhound still has depots.  The only large intercity rail travel in the US today is Amtrak, which has been around since 1971, and they usually use the word “station” rather than “depot.”  To most of the younger crowd, the term “depot” probably indicates a big box store such as Home Depot or Office Depot.  Why those two companies decided to use that word in their name I don’t know, but it may have to do with the fact that they have a large selection of items, much like a military depot.  But for those of us of somewhat advanced years, the term “depot” in a name evokes the a train station, and catching the train in the middle of the night, and sleeping on the train, and getting off the train at another depot in the early morning and meeting friends and family you haven’t seen in years, and so on and so forth.  It was a fun way to travel.

In any event, the meaning of the term “depot” is changing, and I suspect the definition of the term to mean a place to catch a bus or train will eventually be lost.  Watch your dictionary to find out.

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