Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's another word for 'full of impact'?

I'm watching the Thank You for Smoking with the audio track playing the commentary of Jason Reitman Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner.

In a comment on one scene Koechner praises Reitman for including a small but effective detail. "It's impactful" he says.

Impactful gets 93,200 hits on Google™. The first hit: Paul Brians' entry from his huge list of common errors. His entry's are short and clear. About impactful he says "this term does not appear in most dictionaries and is not well thought of by traditionalists." He suggests using 'influential' or 'effective' instead.

The second hit is's entry culled from Webster's New Millenium. ( is not a true dictionary; But it does provide entries taken from dictionaries)

The third hit is Michael Quinion's discussion of why such words are disliked by some. Nice piece. Read it when you're done here.

The fourth hit is the Urban Dictionary entry.

The fifth hit is an ABC NewsRadio rant "Presented by Kel Richards" about the word. He writes:

Well, I’m always happy to cheerfully deride ugly new words that we don’t need – and the word is question here is impactful – and it’s certainly ugly, and certainly unnecessary (the two words 'with impact' will do the same job).

Richards blames American journalists for producing this horror.

So I disagree with Brians' estimation of the importance of traditionalist opinions. These "traditionalists" are choosing to dislike words for weak reasons. But at least Brians is alerting the reader to a real concern. If you care what traditionalists think then avoid the word.

But Richards is trying too much here. What exactly makes a word ugly? Really. What? And what word isn't unnecessary if your argument is merely to suggest using another word or phrase in it's place. Brians suggests 'influential' or 'effective' which don't capture the right meaning. Influential has a sense of powerful and able to change an opinion or perspective to a particular end and effective has a sense of suited to a particular purpose. Impactful is a little more basic than that with a sense of characterised by ability to get or focus attention; possibly memorable with less of the sense of purpose or influence driven by an agenda.

Richards argument that the word is "certainly unnecessary" gets completely tripped up by his suggestion that "'with impact' will do the same job." Really? the same job?

"That was a very impactful sequence."
"That was a very with impact sequence."

"Her intense gaze and ability to speak with impact make her a fierce advocate."
"Her intense gaze and ability to speak impactful make her a fierce advocate."

Impactful isn't a an adverb. Yet.

Right now it's true that some people don't know the word and they wince or twitch on hearing it. But all it takes is enough people using it to turn the naysayers into more obvious and tiresome pedagogues.

So I'll keep using it when it works better than another word. But mostly I'll use it because I'm an American, Mr Richards. And if I don't use 'impactful' the traditionalists win.


  1. Impactful doesn't mean "full of impact" but rather "causing impact." The word you're looking for (used by Faulkner and Fitzgerald, so it'll make the traditionalists happy) is "impactive".

  2. i appreciate the suggestion.

    it's true that the -ful suffix is somewhat removed from the etymological sense of 'containing'. this distance is especially clear in words like fearful or regretful that mean very different things if we think of something either having 'X' or causing 'X'.

  3. True. I don't think regretful is the best example, but in addition to the multipurpose fearful and joyful, there are the single-purpose harmful, dreadful, and painful, all of which mean not having "X" but causing "X".

    What do the roots of these words share, that impact does not?

    (My apologies for resurrecting an old post, by the way.)

  4. grant barrett recently included necropost over at double-tongued dictionary. not a problem at all here. the zombies here are friendly.

    how do you see regretful missing?

  5. Your final point says it all...

    "because I'm an American"

    Explains your ridiculous use-case examples also...

    Well done!!

    Keep butchering the english language until they create one for imbeciles and call it "American English".

    I forgot - they already did.

  6. If you care to explain why the examples are ridiculous, and how that undoes my other claims, I'll be happy to respond.

    If you believe that American English is truly an indication of lesser intelligence or less fidelity to an original language, I'm interested in the data you can provide.

    Otherwise, I'm tempted to think that your opinions are as meritless as they first appear.


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