Jargon Alert #1: “impact”

On some unspecified date in the very recent past, the professional class of America decided the word “effect” was simply too difficult to keep storage within a language also housing the word “affect” – and so, a remedial cure was drudged from the vernacular of auto insurance forms: everyone began using the word “impact” in hitherto unknown and morphologically abusive ways that have now stretched the term into a viscous jargon jam currently observing peak, craft-bottled mania.

The term “prevents thought” through what G.K. Chesterton calls a “paradox of death.” The word enjoys popularity because it has a visceral, athletic, even disaster movie-like flash to it. However, as a noun, it is merely an inert placeholder for additional details and, eventually one hopes, meaning. In reality, the word only works as connective tissue in a much larger context, it was never designed to be the story itself. Impacts in what way? Impacts how? Impacts impactfully is nonsensical (ignoring the debate of whether its comprehensible English). More specifically, following Chesterton, it is a particularly “destructive” kind of nonsense:

Nearly all modern paradoxes merely announce death. I see everywhere among the young men who have imitated Mr. Shaw a strange tendency to utter epigrams which deny the possibility of further life and thought. A paradox may be a thing unusual, menacing, even ugly—like a rhinoceros. But, as a live rhinoceros ought to produce more rhinoceri, so a live paradox ought to produce more paradoxes. Nonsense ought to be suggestive; but nowadays it is abortive. The new epigrams are not even fantastic finger-posts on the wild road: they are tablets, each set into a brick wall at the end of a blind alley. So far as they concern thought at all, they cry to men, “Think no more,” as the voice said “Sleep no more” to Macbeth. These rhetoricians never speak except to move the closure. Even when they are really witty (as in the case of Mr. Shaw), they commonly commit the one crime that cannot be forgiven among free men. They say the last word. (“Two Kinds of Paradox,” 1911)

And so, our first “Jargon Alert” has officially been issued. Watch for rhinoceri.

Quote #5: G.K. Chesterton (1911)

An overall downer tossed with memorable quips:

Everything that collapses, collapses suddenly. When I hear the Evolutionists proving that growth and decay must always be by faint gradations, I can only wonder if they have ever smoked a cigar. If they have, they must surely know how long and solidly a tower of ashes can stand, and how suddenly it ceases. I select the case of cigars because Evolutionists are, as a class, wll off. They would probably know more about cigars than they know about old boots. But the same principle of beautiful abruptness belongs, I believe, to old boots. Experts in poverty (by which I do not mean sociologists, but poor men) have told me that rotten boots will hold together with quite incredible tenacity, as cigar-ashes do. But when the boots really burst they burst like bombs. They are not merely disrupted, but destroyed; there is no doing anything with them at all. Of course, good cigars are consumed slowly and bad boots are consumed carefully; but no care or slowness in the approach makes any difference to the dramatic swiftness of the catastrophe. The beginning of the world may or may not have been evolutionary; but the end of the world won’t be.

Passage from “A Nightmare of Nonsense” published in The Illustrated London News, March 25, 1911.