the aesthetics of words

My sister and I were having a discussion this morning on how much we both dislike the word “impactful.” Not too long ago, “impact” functioned as a noun: “What sort of impact on our sales will this new law have?” But my linguistic eye started twitching when noun jumped to verb: “This new law impacts our sales.” What’s wrong with “affect”? OK. Full disclosure. When I read back this sentence with “impact” as a verb, it doesn’t sound as weird as it used to. Or as eye-twitching.

For a nuanced read of “impactful,” check out Anne Curzan’s post, “What to Do About Impactful?” (Thanks to MJ for that resource.)

But here’s the thing. The word sounds ugly. Can anyone call that word beautiful? “Mellifluous”–that’s a beautiful word. “Recondite”–beautiful with all its sharp edges. “Azure” — you can hear the cello, I swear.

So do we tend to use the vocabulary that pleases our ear and avoid words that beat up our ear drum? Maybe not. Do we have our idiosyncratic list of words that produces a gag reflex? Absolutely. I’m not sure “impactful” will ever leave my list.


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