For notifications of new posts on language, translation, energy and culture, you can subcribe to our blog, with comments and discussion of articles very welcome on our social media accounts.
Person absorbing heat of the sun

Alien immission impacts English

Or: Restoring the efficiency of a lost Latin term

A report by

Following yet another long and interesting discussion on the term ‘immission‘ in a translator network, we decided to give up (at least for the time being) campaigning for its reintroduction into the English language, although we still think it would be entirely justified, not least based on the fact that the term is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Anyway, we intend to use ‘environmental impact’ henceforth, although we reserve the right to use other solutions (e.g. ‘exposure’ or indeed the apparently frowned-upon term itself), depending on the context or situation.

Photovoltaic solar panel array installed in field

Why is this word so worth using? The term concisely describes the process that necessarily occurs in a technical context when we translate the eventual destination, absorption, or impact of an emission.  When a source emits an emission, and after its transmission, a recipient receives an immission, for example sound, light or heat.  As an emission is something sent out, so an immission is something sent in.

This meaning of immission should be logically obvious to English speakers without translation  or paraphrase, as in- and ex – and e- and i- are widely understood as prefixes in contemporary English. Emission comes from the Latin verb mittere  (French mettre, Italian mettere, Spanish and Portuguese meter) with the Latin prefix ex- meaning “out”.  The Latin preposition “in” corresponds to the English preposition “in” and the Latin prefix  in- adds the meaning of within or into, though in- can also negate as in the word “inflexible” or “incurious” or “inadmissable.”  So why might doubt or confusion arise?

The internet era has seen the rapid popularisation of new prefixes used to give a digital, virtual, or online characteristic or status, such as cyber-, web-, info-, techno-, net-, crypto-, smart-, and v-, e-, and i-.  Short, catchy misspellings and neologisms have been spread by short social media posts, text messages, short domain names, and company branding exercises.  Yesterday’s clumsy typo becomes today’s trendy startup title and a wave of new words washes over us every day.

One test a new brand may be put to is the Radio Test: on hearing it, can the user unfailingly spell it correctly? So on hearing broadcast of an immission or struggling to understand or pronounce it, the word might seem to be an i-mission or I Miss Zion, a linguist’s laugh commonly called an Eggcorn.

So immission might be referring here to missing Bob Marley’s Zion Train or a mission to be performed digitally, or done with an eye such as scaling the Eyeful Tower, or a typo for immirsion, meaning a dip in the Mersey. Or is it just a Londoner’s contracted form of “intermission?” Immission as a digital objective might also mean the process of forcing absorption of toxic advertising and political messages, which may degrade the receiving organs. The resulting process of submission and immiseration might well be condemned as a sin of immission.

Perhaps the best-known example of immission occurs in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth, where gender-bending popstar David Bowie’s character is quite literally an extraterrestrial immission to Earth with an i-mission to use technology to save his climate-ravaged homeworld, though he is thwarted by earthbound commercial and political forces who mistrust and envy the alien. David Bowie later married a model named Iman, which written as I-man might suggest a same-sex Cyborg i-wife, though she is in fact is a slender Somalian supermodel. David Bowie never did change his name to I-Tarzan or I-Robot, but was mentioned in Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express, an influential 1977 track, about trains rather than gender, which became a Teutonic immission to the Afro-anglosphere by possibly inventing hip-hop with its weird and often sampled beat.

Person absorbing heat of the sun

Actually, using the broad and familiar term “environmental impact” instead of immission is a classic case of having to use several words to circumscribe the meaning of a concept when one word would be so much more efficient, a situation that can lead to importing words when a foreign language already offers precisely that term in a single word.  Can anyone suggest a better word?