8/03/2011

Mr. Rewrite never, ever aims to be impactful


A cry for help! This is what Mr. Rewrite has craved since he entered this certain-to-be-brief burst of blogging creativity.

Becky from Texas asks for Mr. Rewrite's take on the word impactful. She says her husband is having a running argument with a sportscaster who uses that word. The husband insists that impactful isn't a word; however, the sportscaster contends that it's listed in "a lot of dictionaries."

"Of course, as a lawyer I think my husband rather enjoys the argument," Becky writes, "but (also as a lawyer) he would like some incontrovertible evidence that he is correct."

Mr. Rewrite is ready with his ruling (drumroll, please): Both are correct in a way.

But please note this caveat: Mr. Rewrite would never, ever use the word impactful because he doesn't consider it anything but bureaucratic puffery. And he hopes the term dies a cruel death.

Near as Mr. Rewrite can tell, impactful is a creation of soulless MBAs that's gaining grudging acceptance in places because people such as this sportscaster keep using it.

It's telling that impactful has no listing in the Webster's New World College Dictionary, the reference The Associated Press uses to settle matters not addressed in its stylebook. The New World does list impactive with the definition "of or having an impact." Mr. Rewrite doesn't like that word either, but since it's in a trusted dictionary he'd just grit his teeth if he heard a sportscaster using it.

That said, it's true that impactful appears in some dictionaries. Dictionary.com allows it, but Dictionary.com allows just about anything. Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, which Mr. Rewrite likes much better, lists impactful in its fine print under impact.

Mr. Rewrite, however, sides with the Urban Dictionary's take on impactful:
A non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is.
Paul Brians, author of Common Errors in English Usage, has an entry listing impactful as an error, noting that traditionalists and most dictionaries frown upon it and suggesting the much more conversational words influential or effective instead.

This should make your husband happy, Becky. Bryan A. Garner (cue angelic chorus), an expert on legal writing, calls impactful "barbarous jargon dating from the mid-1970s." Garner's Modern American Usage seems to share Mr. Rewrite's fear that impactful will weasel its way into accepted use because influential people such as this sportscaster can't resist using bloated, important-sounding, bureaucratic words. "Whatever its future may be, impactful is, for now, a word to be scorned," Garner writes.

Mr. Rewrite hopes this answer will be impactive, Becky.

2 comments:

Becky Bennett said...

Get ready for another spit take.

The document sent to the directors at a large state agency in Texas instructs them on the correct procedures to "adoptize" rules to conform with recently passed legislation.

This is an easy one. Even dictionary.com doesn't list this abomination.

Mr. Rewrite's job is secure.

--Becky from Texas

Mr. Rewrite said...

Well, Becky, let Mr. Rewrite compliment Texas on its exemplary operationalization of adoptization into the lexicon.