In his latest effort to ingratiate himself to the population, that lovable rascal Michael Gove has been sending memos round his new ministry telling everybody how to write.
Included in Gove’s list of pet language peeves which staff at the Ministry of Justice will henceforth have their wrists slapped for using in official correspondence, is the word “impact” as a verb.
In other words:
The impact was felt far away
The drugs impacted on his health
Now, for the most part I find Michael Gove to be very reliable as a kind of moral anti-compass: whatever he approves of, I think is horseshit, and whatever he thinks is horseshit, I think is great.
But annoyingly I’m kind of with him on “impact” as a verb.
Not that I would go as far as actually penning a letter to my colleagues and telling them to stop doing it. But it does irritate me.
It invariably has the same meaning as “affect” or “influence”, but presumably those just aren’t sufficiently dramatic or… impactful.
I suppose what bugs me about it is that it has snuck into the language from a certain type of business parlance. People use it at work when they’re trying to sound more “businessy”. You know: I’m a businessperson, I speak right, I’m a member of this gang, I’ve been on all the right courses etc. Rather than speaking in their own voice, they ape the language that everyone else in the boardroom is using.
Is that me being snobby against a certain class of person? (I’ve said before that not liking certain words often boils down to not liking certain people.)
According to the BBC, Gove and I are way off the mark, though. Impact has been around as a verb since at least 1601 and was even used by EM Forster – one of the writers that Gove advises his colleagues to read to improve their English.
Of course, the thing about language is that people will just carry on saying and writing whatever they like, regardless of what Gove (or I) thinks, so if more and more people decide that stuff can indeed “impact on” stuff then, well, it can.
Of all places, you’d hope that staff at the Ministry of Justice would keep their focus on more important things than this. If I worked there, I would make a particular point of including an “impacted on” in every email, report and press release – and twice in every communication with the Justice Secretary.
I can’t imagine it would impact on the ministry’s effectiveness in the slightest.