Normative or descriptive linguistics for the English language usage

It would seem the new usage of the word “impact” is as a verb, not a noun, and is rapidly gaining ascendency. In older dictionairies, there is no verb form of that word. The verb form was “affect”.


How old are you that this usage is new to you?

Cold things must bee applped (sic) in the beginning to hinder the confirming of the griefe, but the vse of them after the beginning, impacteth the matter and encreaseth the payne.
—William Clowes, A Prooued Practise for all Young Chirurgians, 1588


The usage is not new to me. I have known about it for some time. There is much debate as to whether using impact as a verb is proper. However, you noted a very early usage of the verb form, and the OED (which I consider the final orbiter) notes it being used as such in 1601. I may stand corrected on this. Similarly, Julia is not an “ecosystem”. An ecosystem has to do with nature, biology, ecology, not software (see the Wikipedia entry, and the OED).

English is really diverse and used differently in different circumstances by different people. No one document can capture all its varied uses. Maybe I come from a place where “foo” is used one way and you come from somewhere it’s used differently or not at all.

No sense arguing about it or trying to forcibly impose one setting’s linguistic conventions on another: “this particular usage is universally [un]acceptable!” is hard to justify and can be inflammatory. “In my field/neighborhood/cohort/office/family we use ‘foo’ this way, not this way” is information that can improve communication and hence is more useful.


The OED themselves claim to be the “definitive record of the English language”. Despite succumbing to temptation many times, they don’t aim to be a prescriptive authority.

It was founded as (and remains to this day) a descriptive record of how people use the language, not an authority dictating how it ought to be used.

Here’s a relevant source: Metaphor - Wikipedia


What does it orbit?

If we’re to consider OED the final arbiter, it orbits eccentrically to your definition:

A biological system composed of all the organisms found in a particular physical environment, interacting with it and with each other. Also in extended use: a complex system resembling this.

I believe describing software ecosystems as such fits comfortably within the circumference of this extended use. Dwells within its habitable zone. Perhaps beyond the perigee, but within the apogee. As it were.

While we’re circling the drain, it also has a definition of impact as a verb, from 1601:

impact, v. intransitive. To come forcibly into contact with a (larger) body or surface. Const. various prepositions.

Use as a noun comes much later, in 1781. It may be of some comfort that the 180 years in which you would have been wrong twice over are comfortably in the past.

There is a law dating back to Usenet days, that any post containing nitpicking of someone else’s grammar will contain a substantive grammatical flaw of its own. The corollary is that the latter is always fair game.

But it’s best to make good-natured sport of it. You don’t claim to be a paleophyte, after all.


I had a lot of fun with Sam’s response.



Non-native English users learning English here :grinning:

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