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.

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Word #5: “verbalism” (n.)

noun.

  1. Predominance of what is merely verbal over reality or real significance.

Paulo Freire reads a more political dimension to this dampened significance of words:

An unauthentic word, one which is unable to transform reality, results when dichotomy is imposed upon its constitutive elements. When a word is deprived of its dimension of action, reflection automatically suffers as well; and the word is changed into idle chatter, into verbalism, into an alienated and alienating “blah.” It becomes an empty word, one which cannot denounce the world, for denunciation is impossible without a commitment to transform, and there is no transformation without action (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 75-76).