Date: Thu, 25 Jun 1998 08:58:47 +0000
From: Peter McGraw
Subject: Re: "incent"

Gosh, I'm surprised at so many linguists (well, roughly two so far)
rejecting "incent." C'mon, Bethany and Mark, are you sure you're not
rationalizing (linguistifying? Or should I say "linguing"?) the secret
prescriptivist impulses we probably all harbor?

I can't help cringing at "incent," either, no matter how many times I
read it, but nevertheless if I force myself to be objective, it seems
an extremely useful, even necessary, word--far more economical than
the cumbersome "create an incentive to" (+ infinitive).

As for its semantics, I find the same elegance there. I had never
heard the word before this discussion started, but the first time I
read it, the meaning "create an incentive to" seemed obvious and

As for "incentivize," that makes me cringe even more, with that suffix
that's the shibboleth par excellence of advertising jargon. And as for
being "derived by an existing and widespread process," maybe
back-formation isn't as widespread as suffixation, but it's certainly
"existing." What about "intuit"? That always makes me cringe a tiny
bit, too, but it's similarly useful and I see it's well enough
established to have made it into my first-edition AHD.

Even though "incentive" is derived from the p.p. of "incinere," I
say let's not incinerate it just yet.


On Thu, 25 Jun 1998 11:29:34 -0400 "Bethany K. Dumas"

> The problem I have with forms like "incent" is semantic: what EXACTLY
> does it mean? It seems to me that it can mean variously "provide
> incentive" or "provoke" or "fail to provide disincentive," etc.
> The same thing happens with the relatively new tr verb "grow" as in "to
> grow the economy" -- does it mean "improve the economy" [and, if so,
> by whose standards?] or "increase the GNP" or "decrease inflation"???
> Who knows?
> Bethany

Peter A. McGraw
Linfield College
McMinnville, Oregon