I have a confession to make: I’ve been known to use the word “impactful” around the office. The word just won’t go away. It has permeated into brainstorms, meetings and even client correspondence. The fact of the matter is that it’s so charged with meaning that whether or not it “qualifies” as a word seems irrelevant. Besides, no one’s ever stopped me in mid-sentence and asked me to clarify.
So what makes a word a word? For many it has to pass the Merriam-Webster’s seal of approval. Others – myself included – rely on the squiggly red line in Microsoft Word to serve as our guide. I would argue, however, that the real determinant of a word’s legitimacy is whether or not it has been adopted into pop culture and everyday speech (we saw this with “truthiness” in 2006).
Depending on whom you ask, there are between 500,000 and one million words in the English language. Out of these, it’s estimated that the average educated person knows roughly 20,000 words and uses 2,000 in a typical week. In this broader context, it may seem odd to write about the merits of a single word, but the discussion is very much a part of our role as communicators. After all, we do consider ourselves in the business of articulation.
This discussion is not about the word “impactful” per se, but rather about harnessing the power of the English language to effectively communicate to your customers, your internal audience, and the media.
The reality of the matter is that in today’s information age people are saying more and more but communicating less and less. While “impactful” may never earn official status as a word, it serves as an important placeholder as we strive to fill the articulation void in everyday communication.