Posts Tagged ‘grammar’


Berkeley colleagues and students rib me about a vocabulary obsession I have.


I cannot abide and repeatedly object to the word “impact” –whether as verb or as noun — and to its variants, “impacted” and the grotesque “impactful.” It is acceptable, although inelegant, to write that the bat impacted the ball, or about the impact of a car on a pedestrian, or about an impacted tooth. It is not only inelegant but also logically and intellectually misleading to write about, say, the social impacts of a policy or how a technological device is impacting our culture Using “impact” to describe social or historical change impairs clear thought.

It is, alas, only one of the more blatant examples of how casual metaphors can undermine causal analysis.


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Grammar Rules

Ours is an age of sentences such as “C u 2nite, k?” and “I tweet that’s the way I roll,” from a potential prez. Some even in the literary ranks applaud using the latest vernacular (e.g., here). It seems avant-garde, like treating graffiti as art. Yet, there was a time when Americans of all ranks – from the learned gentry to the self-taught slave – sought to write and speak only in the most proper, authorized form of English. To know the rules of conjugation, declension, proper use of infinitives and other minutiae of grammar was the mark of the educated person. That was what “grammar schools” were for.

A recent article by Beth Barton Schweiger in the Journal of the Early Republic (a fun journal to read, at least for me) describes how important it was for garnering the esteem of others and for self-respect in the 19th century not only to read and write, but more critically, to know by heart rules such as “Conjunctions that are of a positive and absolute nature, require the indicative mood.” And she describes how this veneration of grammatical rules was a vehicle for democracy.

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