The Grammarphobia Blog

Uggies of the Year?

Q: Three words are driving me nuts: “incentivize,” “effort” (used as a verb), and “orientate.” You covered “orientate” recently on the Leonard Lopate Show. Any comments about the other two? They appear to come from the worlds of business and politics.

A: I’m happy to say that to “effort” is a new one on me, though another listener recently wrote me about it. I can’t find any dictionary that allows “effort” as anything but a noun.

“Incentivize” is truly ugly but, unlike “effort,” it appears as a verb in both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed). M-W dates it from 1970.

What’s wrong with “motivate”? I have a blog entry about “incentivize” and one on an even weirder (in my opinion) verb, “incent.” I also have a posting on “orientate.”

“Incent” is a word formed a generation or so ago, and it’s what’s known as a back-formation, in this case formed from “incentive.” (As the verb “effort” is a back-formation from the noun “effort,” and “orientate” is one from “orientation.”)

The blog entry on “incent” has more information on other back-formations, some of them pretty outrageous. How about “administrate” as a candidate for Uggie of the Year!

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