Ad and marketing creatives

Red Pen Diaries: "Impactful"

Apparently, "impactful" is a word (and by this I mean it's recognized by a handful of reasonably reputable sources).

I choose not to use it, however. I think it sounds horrible, like an impacted wisdom tooth or, heaven forefend, an impacted bowel.

I guess the days of saying, "That 'Hi, I'm a Mac' campaign sure had an impact" are gone; now it's all, "That 'Hi, I'm a Mac' campaign sure was impactful."

I cringe every time I hear "impactful." In my heart of hearts, I just want "impact" to be a noun. I prefer things to have an impact or make an impact or approach the point of impact; I don't want them to impact each other or behave impactfully.

Yeah, there's "impactive," but to these oh-so-sensitive ears, that's only marginally less offensive than "impactful." I guess I should consider myself lucky that "impactitudinous" hasn't caught on. This doomsday scenario was suggested by Mike Livingston, who commented about "impactful" on the delightful blog "You Don't Say," a place for requisitely bespectacled, bow-tied Baltimore Sun Copy Desk Director John E. McIntyre to write about "language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects." (McIntyre was recently let go by the Sun in a restructuring of their newsroom. His new blog can be found here.)

Because I'm a devoted fan of "The Wire," the final season of which starred The Baltimore Sun, and because John McIntyre is a former president of the American Copy Editors Society (and ignoring, rather generously, that he's a graduate of Michigan State University — go blue!), I will now quote from his blog entry "Oh, the impact":

"Given the dubious status of the word impact as a verb, which several authorities recommend against, and the lack of citations for impactful in standard references, The Sun's copy desk affirms ... that impactful may be used in direct quotes, if the writer insists on it, but not otherwise in the paper. This decision remains in effect until the word achieves a more secure purchase on the language, or the A.M.E. [Assistant Managing Editor]/Copy Desk is overruled by a Higher Authority."

Granted, McIntyre was writing in February of 2007 and I think we can say with crestfallen confidence that, like the jaws of a long-tailed weasel clamping down upon the neck of a hapless Arctic hare, the word has indeed achieved a more secure purchase.

I blame local news anchors, law enforcement and especially middle managers for ruining "impact," and I'm not alone. Regarding the latter culprits, suspected Pastafarian J. Spaghetti contributed this definition to on May 30, 2007 (evidently a watershed year for "impactful"):

"A nonexistent 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. This term is most frequently used in 'team building' seminars and conferences in which said drones discuss the most effective ways to convince consumer zombies to purchase crap they clearly do not need or even want."
Unfortunately, I'm with Whitney Houston in believing that children are our future, and I thus fear a bright future for "impactful." As explained in the 1996 edition of The American Heritage Book of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English, quoted on
" ... Impact has been used as a verb since 1601, and its figurative use dates from 1935, allowing people plenty of time to get accustomed to it [I, for one, need more time]. It may be that its frequent appearance in jargon-riddled remarks of politicians, military officials, and financial analysts has made people suspicious. Nevertheless, the use of impact as a verb has become so common in corporations and institutions that younger speakers [that would be the aforementioned children] have begun to regard it as standard ... "
Kids these days. Go ahead — call me an old coot, a fuddy-duddy, a cantankerous codger, a linguistic Luddite. Use "impactful" with impunity. Just don't expect me to like it.

What verbiage makes you seize up? Vent in the comments below!

Click here to read more articles from Candlepower.

Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn summaries and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label "word nerd" as a badge of honor. Click here to read more articles by Julia Rubiner.

Tone down the exclamation marks, please!
"Literally" can provide some oomph, but often at the expense of credulity.
Really! Truly! Literally!
A modest defense of non-literal "literally".