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Bad Words Like Incent

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9 Responses

  1. rusty says:

    What incents you to write this? Being incensed by the 2009 data?

  2. Bobo Linq says:

    You may want to revise this.

    “Administrate” is a back-formation from “administration,” not “administer.” Usage experts frown upon it precisely because the perfectly serviceable “administer” already exists.

    Enthuse — this is indeed a back-formation from enthusiasm.

    “Incent” is a back-formation from “incentive,” not from “incentivize.” As with “administrate,” the back-formation is discouraged by usagists because a serviceable word (“incentivize”) already does the work of the back-formation.

    Orientate — you correctly note that this is a back-formation from orientation.

    Back-formations result for one of two reasons: (1) the back-formation nicely fills a gap better than other available words (“enthuse” is a good example); or (2) the back-formation comes more readily to mind than the standard word (e.g., “administrate” for “administer”) for people with limited vocabularies. It is this correlation with limited vocabularies, I think, that is at the root of usagists’ disapproval of back-formations.

  3. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Re 1 rusty, that’s cute.

    Re 2 Bobo Ling, thanks for the general affirmation. Follow-ups:

    (a) Your 2nd paragraph offers to corect that “administrate” is a back-formation from “administration,” not “administer.” Yet your final paragraph illustrates the ready-to-mind notion by contrasting “administrate” to “administer” (as I and the source I reference had it.) Perhaps it matters less than you insinuate from what coinage a back-formation comes (whether “administrate” is a back-formation from “administration” or “administer.”).

    (b) Your 4th paragraph offers to correct that “incent” is a back-formation from “incentive,” not from “incentivize.”
    Again, given (a), why does that matter? Moreover, incent is used as a verb, to incent, suggesting it stands in for to incentivize, not for incentive. Yet again, why does this matter?

    (c) Your limited vocabularly thesis for usage expert rejection of words like incent is interesting. In this post’s context, there is no doubt that legal scholars command prodigious vocabularies. Something else may be going on. After all, it should be possible to identify a better word in every context I read in the law review articles using the word incent, including: stimulate, provoke, induce, entice, motivate, spur, prompt, impel, prod, rouse. When the rich extant English language will do, there is no need to make up new words that do not resonate.

  4. Jeff Lipshaw says:

    I recall that now Professor Robert Weisberg, when he was the EIC of the Stanford Law Review, banned, among other things, “Kafka-esque” and “utilize”, which I assume is a back formation of utilization, in favor of the simpler “use.” (I wasn’t on the law review, but I used to walk by its office from time to time, and saw the sign on the bulletin board.)

  5. Miriam A. Cherry says:

    What do you think of tasking, i.e. “so and so has tasked me with xyz” or “so and so was tasked with xyz.” I have been hearing that a lot lately and it sort of bugs me, but haven’t figured out why. Maybe just meeting speak.

  6. Jeff Lipshaw says:

    Miriam, “task” as a verb is pure corp-o-speak. It’s also a guy thing to make verbs out of nouns.

  7. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Miriam: I share your chagrin. Jeff is probably right. I still don’t like it. Reports say it dates to 1530. Yet a usage fad grips us. I suggest that we them to task!

  8. Bob Manley says:

    As it happens, “incent” and “incentivize” are both back-formations from “incentive”. I can’t speak for the first date of use of either word in a law review article, but in mainstream publishing, “incentivize” dates back to the 1970s, and “incent” has been used since the 1980s.

  9. Lachlan says:

    Bob: “Incentivize” is derived from “incentive”, but isn’t a back-formation. A back-formation comes from removing what seems to be a suffix, not adding one.