Thursday, April 12, 2007

Impacted, er, "profoundly affected" by essays

I am finished my teaching assistant duties for the year.

I really enjoyed leading TA groups, but the marking was a bit of a chore. I wouldn't say that I am a "perfectionist" per se, but I like things to be as perfect as possible. In practice, this means that if my professor tells me each essay should take an average of half an hour to grade, it actually takes me an hour and fifteen minutes of mental agony to assign a mark and write comments that are accurate and helpful. Marking fills me with guilt, because I'm generally worried I'm being too generous to some students over others, or being too harsh as well. Bad essays fill me with TA Rage, and after so many C minuses in a row, my essay remarks tend to turn cranky, and I have trouble coming up with "token nice things" to say.

The part of marking I actually like is finding ridiculous sentences. They happen to the best of us, but we generally hope we have enough time to edit that we will catch it. Last-minute essays are often full of 'em.

My biggest peeves from this set of essays were:
  • The use of present tense when discussing history. Hello, people! It happened, it is not happening. Sheesh!
  • The dearth of weird funny sentences. I had far more "this doesn't make sense" than "hahahas" written in the margin this time around.
  • The use of the word impact and all its variants.

  • When you think of the word "impact," your first thought should generally be of a violent collision between two objects. An "impact" is powerful, dangerous, and often results in tragedy (think plans and bombs, people). It's a very strong word. My first peeve about the word "impact," then, is that it is used too freely. "The law had an impact on the rise of bootleggers." This word is too strong for the actual meaning. Why not use "influence," "effect," "affected," "directly resulted"? I don't want to be Henry Tilney quibbling over the word "nice," here, but c'mon people. Let's always aim for precision and accuracy in our writing. It conveys more meaning.

    The English language does allow the use of "impact" as a verb. You can grammatically say "the lack of rain impacted the farmer's crops." But would you? This is purely a stylistic quibble, but when I hear the word "impacted," I think of bowels. That's bowels, not "vowels." This is particularly amusing to me, because Pastor Kohler uses the word all the time. Hee.

    Okay, temporary relapse to first grade aside, let's talk a little more about the verb "to impact." This really goes back to my complaint about "utilize". I will quote my handy computer dictionary here:

    As a verb, impact remains rather vague and rarely carries the noun’s original sense of forceful collision. Careful writers are advised to use more exact verbs that will leave their readers in no doubt about the intended meaning. In addition, since the use of impact is associated with business and commercial writing, it has a peripheral status of ‘jargon,’ which makes it doubly disliked.

    This really says it all, and I think I can round up my post now. using the word "impact" as a verb is a recent development in the English language - it apparently started cropping up in business jargon in the 1960s. Its meaning has been undermined by frequent, vague applications, and there are more specific words you can use!

    I just want to return once more to the medical use of the word "impacted":

    *snicker snicker*

    Given my obvious train of thought, there will be no images today to accompany this post. Heheheheh.

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