Etymology Usage

Is “inciteful” a word?

Q: I can’t remember the last time I saw the word “insightful” spelled that way. My correspondents seem to favor “inciteful.” Have you noticed this? Does it drive you crazy? It does me.

A: Yes, we’ve noticed this misspelling, but we don’t see it much among our correspondents. Definitely not enough to drive us crazy.

And “inciteful” isn’t always a misspelling. Although you won’t find the word in standard dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary has an entry that defines it this way: “Liable to rouse to passion; provocative.”

The earliest OED citation is from a 1971 case in the Federal Supplement, a collection of US court opinions:

“The public mutilation of the flag is an act which is likely to elicit a violent response from many who observe such acts. The Supreme Court has clearly recognized the inciteful impact of flag desecration.”

In a more entertaining citation, a 1984 issue of The Listener, a now defunct BBC magazine, refers to the provocative Diana Rigg as “terribly sexy and coolly inciteful.”

By the way, “insightful” isn’t all that much older than “inciteful.”

The first citation in the OED is from The Country House, a 1907 novel by John Galsworthy: “As if she had been guilty of thoughts too insightful, Mrs Pendyce blushed.”

One final comment on this “inciteful/insightful” business. Some googling suggests that many of the people who use “inciteful” are using it correctly. Perhaps these two words will sort themselves out over time.

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