I will admit, I was not aware of the furor surrounding the word “impact” until I sat down to look for column ideas this week – but boy oh boy, are people passionate about this one.
The American Heritage Dictionary dates the controversy back to the 1960s, when “impact” went colloquial – morphing from a literal, forceful strike to a direct effect or influence.
According to the folks over at American Heritage, “The noun was criticized as a pointless hyperbole and as a vogue word,” and the verb form got it even worse.
A quick Internet search will show that people are still arguing over whether “impact” can properly be used as a verb even today. It’s an odd argument, since “impact” originated as a verb and didn’t gain a noun form for nearly two centuries.
Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries both show “impact” popping up in English usage as a verb around the beginning of the 1600s. It originates from the Latin impactus, meaning “to push against.” That meaning is how we understand it in literal uses today: to strike forcefully or to press together.
The noun “impact” shows up in the 1780s. It, again, is used in the literal sense to mean a forceful contact or the act or force of one thing hitting another.
Nowadays you’re likely to see the word “impact” used as a synonym for “influence” or “affect.” One of Facebook’s major metrics pages is even labeled “Impact.” But, 50-plus years later, there are still plenty of grammarians who don’t approve of “impact” as anything but a noun.
As for me, “impact” as a verb – even a figurative verb – seems to be a done deal. It’s even passed the greatest litmus test of our time: It’s Facebook official.