writing

Pet Peeve: Impact vs. Affect

I openly admit to being one of those people whose eye twitches when words are used incorrectly.

I know that education, and therefore proper usage, is a privilege not everyone has, so it’s not that I judge people for the way they speak, it’s more an automatic reaction, like when you hear a discordant note in a piece of music.

Some of these discordant notes strike me worse than others, so I figured I would take advantage of my platform here to share my particular pet peeves as I think of them over the next little while, and maybe play my part in weeding them out of existence.

Okay, that’s kind of a huge ambition. Language changes. I know this. As certain usages become popular, they become accepted, often replacing the original word or use. We see it all the time, and it’s a facet of the English language I find fascinating.

But I have a hard time letting go.

Take impact vs. affect.

In my dayjob, it has become acceptable to use these two words interchangeably. Every day, documents go past my desk with sentences like “This policy impacts the program.”

It’s a personalized form of torture.

Unless you are specifically talking about something physically colliding with or hitting something else, impact is not a verb, it is a noun.

Your car can impact the telephone pole.

The asteroid can impact the Earth.

In both of these cases, the result is serious injury and expense.

If your policy impacts your project, then that would suggest said policy was taken in hand and slapped against your project, or maybe stuffed into a cannon and fired into your project, or possibly raised to a height of some significance, then dropped onto your project to the distress of all involved.

However, your policy can have an impact on your project, or your policy can affect your project. Neither of these alternatives risks any kind of bodily harm, depending on the nature of your business.

For a quick and easy way to know whether you’re using impact correctly, Grammar Girl suggests an simple test: if you can use an article like “the” or “an” before impact in a sentence, than you’re likely in the clear.

Thoughts?

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