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Say What You Mean

April 8, 2009

The word impactful got invented sometime in the last 20 years, and I first heard it because I was trying to do a window display at a store in Cambridge where I worked. The store sold monarch butterfly pillows, African masks that were mass-produced repros of actual African masks, and shiny rocks that gutter punks would walk in and pocket. I was told to make that window display impactful. I couldn’t, and so was relegated to a perch behind a dingy counter in back where I kept a watchful eye on the five-finger discount set.

We already have more words than we can use. Honest. And now with the mainstream acceptance of linguistic mut1l4t10n, it’s harder than ever to tell what the right thing to call this or that really is.
It’s hard to think it matters sometimes.

So it is in this mode that I pivot and turn towards the letter of the law. I don’t really know much about it except that it DOES contain Latin (old) and does NOT contain l33t. I find it refreshing how when you do something in society that fucks someone over, they tell it to you straight. And you learn a thing or too from the initially daunting linguistic rectitude.

Assault and Battery
: you assault someone, usually while battering them, which means to hit them, not to coat them in cornmeal.

Arson: you set stuff on fire on purpose. Usually stuff that isn’t yours. Neat word. Seldom used out of the criminal context.

Burglary: you burgle. That’s a word. Buttle, however, is only a word in Clue.

And so on. You can also take the ramblin’ outlaw poet root and say you bin stealin or done set fires or shot your woman down. These are not actual crimes. These phrases are typically incanted mournfully over cowboy chords in a jail cell. Usually, the singer cannot sleep due to the disruptive sound of dead people walking around, people whom he may have murder one‘d or arson‘d.

You see, when language can’t be preserved, you need to take it in colorful directions (not r3t4rd3d 1s). Be a ramblin’ outlaw poet, not a teenaged texting twitter twat. But follow my lead on this one bit: DON’T NAME LAWS AFTER PEOPLE.

I’m sorry. I can’t help that I have to professionally digest ten hours of Fox News a week. So the way YOU can help is by helping to stop the spread of the Amber Alert. Or if you want to take it locally and live in California, Megan’s Law is also an acceptable target.

The next time you are discussing Amber Alerts, which might not happen unless you are a newscaster, but worth a shot… remember what you are obscuring. Child abduction.
It’s not funny, it’s not pretty, and it’s one of the biggest evils one can commit in society.
So I don’t think the best way to be
impactful about that message is to give it a name most people associate with sex workers.



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