Saturday, December 30, 2006

Simple pleasures

One of my little personal buttons is the wide-spread habit of using "impact" when the writer/speaker is too fashion-conscious to bother looking for the right word--which might be anything from "cause," or "constrain," to "influence," "effect," or "pressure," but rarely is, in fact, "impact." As a rule of thumb, if you come upon "impact" in a sentence that isn't about wisdom teeth or meteors, it's probably been tossed in uncritically because it sounds, well, impactful--an ugly pseudologism I swear I have heard uttered with a straight face in the last six months by people who should know better.

So it was with quiet delight, flying back from Minneapolis last night, that I read the following in a review of David Remnick's Reporting: Writings from The New Yorker by Neil Ascherson in last week's New York Review of Books:
Most of the profiles in this anthology, though not all, are about leaders--in the United States, Britain, Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere--who fight only to survive. They are skilled and impressive, satisfied that they have "done their best," but they do not risk plunging into those dark places where disasters but also breakthroughs are found. As a result, nothing essential changes and impacted problems remain to poison future generations.

There now. That wasn't so hard, was it? And notice that, by using the word in a correct (if still metaphorical) sense, Ascherton's also able to link to the associated theme of poison (i.e., infection or sepsis), along with the suggestion of being at least partly concealed beneath the surface, to characterize those problems. Nothing about the sloppy use of "impact" now in vogue could have created or exploited that nuance.

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