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If you must e-mail about my grammar

Like most bloggers, I'm not too fond of e-mails correcting my grammar. You try writing 15 posts a day without ever writing "then" when you meant "than." But insofar as such e-mails have to be sent, more of them should read like this missive from the Masked Grammarian.

We at Masked Grammarian (a loosely-knit small group of grammar snobs) send corrections to sites on the web when we notice something that bugs us. Almost always, we do this only when it seems worthwhile -- a site that we like with a significant error.

In this case, you used the word "impacted" to mean "affected". Until just a few years ago, "impacted" was used only in a medical sense: unless otherwise stated, it was assumed to refer to fecal impaction. Of course, it could also refer to wisdom teeth, etc.

Due to the rise of MBA-speak, many nouns have become verbified, and we've all slipped into using words, such as "impacted", which were formerly the domain of people who talk of synergy, best practices, 10,000-foot views, and the like.

We just wanted to point out your incorrect (albeit unfortunately well-accepted) use of "impacted" in your 1:08 PM post today. We also hope that we will not be impacted, in the traditional sense, by your light posting schedule, though it will negatively affect our day.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 11, 2010; 4:37 PM ET
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Brilliant. Erm....fully synergized and integrated with backwards overflow.

Posted by: protonk | March 11, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the aims of the Masked Grammarian, but really? This is where you're going to make your stand?

I'm largely prescriptivist, but the newer use of "impacted" doesn't bother me at all. It's not really synonymous with "affected" at all, in my opinion. "Affected" strongly suggests deliberate, well-contained effect. "Impacted" suggests additional secondary, unintended effects as well -- the crash of an action into a status quo, achieving an intended effect but inevitably sending shock waves and faults out in all directions.

True, MBA-speak has robbed the word of some of this poetic imagery, but just because some people will try to abuse color and nuance out of language doesn't obligate you to go along with it.

Posted by: bjrubble | March 11, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

--"I'll unhair thy head." (Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, II, v.)
--"The thunder would not peace at my bidding". (Shakespeare, King Lear, IV, vi.)

Oh no! The MBAs and their damnable anthimeria! They've gotten to Willy!

Posted by: theorajones1 | March 11, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

Geez, if anyone tried to send Yglesias emails every time he used bad grammar it might break the whole internet.

Posted by: ab13 | March 11, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The Grammarians (sic) can simply ingest more fiber.

Posted by: HalHorvath | March 11, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Awww ... Ezra, I'm sorry I ever criticized your grammar. It was done completely out of love, I swear. Color me chastened.

Posted by: pbasso_khan | March 11, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I hate "impacted" in all its modern day usage glory.

However, nothing beat a marketing director I used to work for who made the mistake of wanting to use "impactful" in some marketing write-up. I told him I absolutely, categorically refused to type that word, and if he insisted on using it, he could jolly well fire my ass and get someone else to type his descriptions.

He never tried using that word again.

Posted by: doxytoo | March 11, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

They had me at "loosely-knit", a clear peevologist hypercorrection. Saints preserve us from self-appointed language police.

Bottom line: "well-accepted" is incompatible with "incorrect".

Posted by: YeraMeyahu | March 11, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I think it's a corollary of Murphy's Law that "grammar" corrections like this always contain errors.

Grammar and usage are not the same thing. The Masked Grammarians commit a usage error when they adopt that moniker to criticize Ezra's usage of the word 'impacted'.

Their grammatical error is committed with the compound "loosely-knit."

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

"If the adverb ends in -ly in an adverb-adjective compound, the hyphen is omitted: a finely tuned mechanism, a carefully worked canvas."

Or did they commit an error in usage, not grammar, with that hyphen? I'm confused myself, which is why it's better not to waste one's time correcting others. (Fully aware of the self-contradiction? Yes, thank you.)

Posted by: knacheme | March 11, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Ha! I remember when you misprounced "slavish" so it sounded like "slaavish" in one of the earlier Bob Wright Bloggingheads!

When I blog regularly, I make at least one grammar or usage error a day. At least. Plus some typos. Sitting close to them does make people computers.

I don't see how language can be fluid without people making the occasional mistake. Since blogging is a form of instantaneous communication, it really isn't the kind of thing that lends itself to a strong edit.

Posted by: hoofin | March 11, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

doxytoo, you are doing the Lord's work. Hearing "impactful" makes me want to punch people in the throat.

Posted by: JEinATL | March 11, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Ok, I'll be that guy.

"You try writing 15 posts a day without ever writing "then" when you meant "than."

That isn't a grammatical error — it's a spelling mistake. 'Then' and 'than' are not related. They're completely different words that serve completely different roles in a sentence. Understand that and you'll stop mixing them up.

Posted by: kaivles | March 11, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I heart nouning verbs.

Posted by: ThomasEN | March 11, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

I think it's okay to treat "imPACTed" with the emphasis on the second syllable as a distinct word from "IMpacted" with the emphasis on the first syllable. It's not exactly a grammatical error to use a neologism.

Anyway, you can avoid using "affected" while remaining traditional by using a phrase such as "had an impact on."

Those grammar pedants should dedicate themselves to educating bloggers about the correct usage of "its" versus "it's." That'll keep them busy.

Posted by: billkarwin | March 11, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

"They're completely different words that serve completely different roles in a sentence. Understand that and you'll stop mixing them up."

I don't think the problem is not understanding that "than" and "then" serve different roles. The problem is that, when our cognitive resources are taxed or otherwise engaged, we sometimes unconsciously revert to spelling words phonetically. And since we often don't hear the difference between "than" and "then", it's easy to mix them up when you're not thinking about it.

Just like if I were to accidentally write "here" instead of "hear". Would you think I didn't know that those words serve two very different roles? Or would you think I was spelling phonetically?

We feel your pain, Ezra. And whenever we tease you about such trivialities, we are, indeed, doing so out of love. Or enmity. One of those two. Either way, it's never about the grammar/usage/spelling.

Posted by: slag | March 11, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

"That isn't a grammatical error — it's a spelling mistake. 'Then' and 'than' are not related. They're completely different words that serve completely different roles in a sentence. Understand that and you'll stop mixing them up."

That's not strictly true. As slag points out, we revert or err when pressed for time or attention. I'm sure Ezra knows in the back of his mind when basically to use then and than--probably more than he knows when to use affect and effect but honestly who can keep those straight? We can't kid ourselves that knowledge is sufficient to eliminate error.

Posted by: protonk | March 11, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Actually, typing "then" for "than", or another common error, typing "that" for "than", is a kind of typo. The fingers do it by themselves, without intervention. The answer, of course, is to proofread what one writes before posting, or sending, or publishing. This is obviously a much bigger issue with Yglesias than with Ezra.

Posted by: thehersch | March 11, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Despite its triviality, I enjoyed the discussion of Mr. Klein's lapses and those of his critics from Grammar-Usage-Spelling Correctness. At least, it was literate. The critics' huffing and puffing is misdirected. Mr. Klein communicates with style, clarity, and intelligence. He has something to say and says it well.

I would like to direct the attention of the Grammar-Usage-Spelling Police to the fractured English common to the messages in Facebook and similar websites. The content is sometimes poisonous, the written expression often ungrammatical; words are misspelled [mistyped?]and/or misused.

Has anyone read "The Grammarian's Funeral" by Robert Browning lately?

Posted by: castleb | March 11, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for grammar vigilantes, but I don't know if I buy their "impacted" explanation.

This link -- -- makes your usage seem fine.

And, theorajones1, that was great! Thanks.

Posted by: dpurp | March 11, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

This is hysterical. Obviously its from William Safire from beyond the grave. I miss his observations in the Sunday NY Times magazine.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | March 11, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

If it comes down to choosing between various MBA-speak evils, I would take "impacted" over "growing the economy" any day.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 11, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse


–verb (used with object)
to drive or press closely or firmly into something; pack in.
to fill up; congest; throng: A vast crowd impacted St. Peter's Square.
to collide with; strike forcefully: a rocket designed to impact the planet Mars.
to have an impact or effect on; influence; alter: The decision may impact your whole career. The auto industry will be impacted by the new labor agreements.

Things to take from this:
1) It most certainly can be used as a verb.
2) The word "impact" can not only mean "to fill up; congest; throng", as they are suggested with the medical versions, but also "to collide with" (which I would argue is the most common usage) and, of course, "to have an impact or effect on", which is how you used it.

Posted by: burndtdan | March 12, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Write back and tell them that 'loosely knit' doesn't take a hyphen.

Posted by: bowest | March 12, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

What nonsense "to verbify" is not a verb. Clearly they at masked grammarian mean to say that nouns have been verbed.

Also for a bunch of grammer freak they sure seem to be casual about singulars and plural. They can either call themself Masked grammarians or refer to themselves in the singular but they at masked grammarian should have guessed that they would write appalling phrases like "we at masked grammarian" if they decided that the s was optional.

Posted by: rjw88 | March 12, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I have no room to complain, since I am often guilty of messing up "their", "there", and they're".

I am also on the losing side of the Normalcy v. Normality struugle.

Posted by: howie14 | March 12, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

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