2/27/2008

Let's incent against the bastardization of language

Utah's governor has "found a way to incentivize compromise," a legislative leader tells The Salt Lake Tribune.

Business Week (via MSNBC) says Hillary Clinton has a plan to "incentivize savings."

The Nation (via Yahoo! News) says John McCain could "incentivize efficiency" as part of a climate change campaign strategy.

A Harvard professor writing in The New York Times presents Republicans as wanting tax breaks to "incentivize more rapid economic growth."

This word unhappyizes Mr. Rewrite. He salutes Bryan A. Garner (cue angelic chorus) for his stand against incentivize as an "-ize barbarism" -- that is, slapping -ize on a noun or adjective to create a verb that only an android or MBA could love. In Garner's Modern American Usage, Garner says incentivize and incent have made the jump from business jargon into everyday language since appearing in the 1970s.

"There is no good incentive to use either one," he writes.

Mr. Rewrite doesn't dismiss -ize as a suffix. Put to good uses, -ize can create helpful words such as jeopardize, industrialize and modernize. But let's have some limits.

Mr. Rewrite was shocked to find that The American Heritage College Dictionary he spent $18 on yesterday lists incentivize without apology ("To offer incentives or an incentive to; motivate"). He hopes he saved the receipt.

Those paid to know better should be leading the charge against incentivize. But Mr. Rewrite finds plenty of articles using incentivize, incentivized, incentivizing and incentivizes. As if we needed further proof that the end of civilization is close at hand, Mr. Rewrite even finds a handful of media uses of incentivization. Yeesh.

How about just writing "offer incentives" or "motivate?" If we keep letting bureaucratic horrors such as incentivize make our dictionaries, Mr. Rewrite suggests that we risk crapitizing ("To make crappy") the language beyond recognition.

2 comments:

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston said...

I am with you, Mr. Rewrite. I cringed when I read recently about a program to "automatize" a certain behavior among the employees in a company. When I looked up the word, I found the reason for my discomfort. "Automatize" means "to make automatic" or "to turn into an automaton." The "ize" words do make language sound robotic.

Lynn

Let's Clean It Up! said...

Thanks for the comment. It causes Mr. Rewrite much happyization. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston's most excellent Business Writing Blog is at www.businesswritingblog.com.