Arrant Pedantry



Recently I received an e-mail from my bank informing me that they had experienced some system outages. What struck me was that the e-mail kept referring to “impacted systems,” and it conjured up some strange mental images.

A lot of people hate the verb impact because they say that it should only be a noun or a participial adjective (impacted). The verb seems to be a fairly recent innovation, and it’s often stigmatized because it’s strongly associated with business-speak. (Though it’s worth pointing out that the verb contact is also a relatively recent business-speak derivation from a noun, and nobody gets up in arms about that one.)

I’m not a big fan of impact meaning “affect,” but as far as crimes against the language go, I think it’s pretty inconsequential. I think it waters down the original sense of “impinge upon” or “strike,” but such is the way language goes—words change, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop it.

But the participial adjective impacted is something different, at least in my mind. I don’t think it has really gained the “affected” sense that the verb impact has. It seems to me that impacted is only ever used to refer to two things: wisdom teeth and feces lodged in someone’s colon.

These are, to say the least, not exactly the associations one wants to evoke when referring to computer systems. Now, I just want to point out that this association in no way hindered my understanding of the e-mail from my bank; I knew exactly what they meant and did not have to spend any extra time figuring it out. I did, however, do a mental double-take when I read it, and that’s presumably not the reaction they were hoping for.

This is the point where a die-hard prescriptivist would rail against the abomination that is impacted meaning “affected,” but I’m not going to do that. My only point is this: feel free to use whatever words you think are best, but be aware of how they will impact your readers.

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