Friday, October 28, 2011


Did I make you blink? Yesterday morning someone on NPR actually used that word. I got so discombobulated at hearing the word that I don't remember anything else about the broadcast.

It reminded me of a similar experience when Colin Powell was on NPR speaking as Secretary of State. He used the word "incentify," and I went ballistic. I screamed, "Aren't there other perfectly good words out there without turning 'incentive' into a verb?" Later in the morning, I posed that very question to my AP Language & Composition students, some of the brightest kids in a school that is ranked among the top in the nation. We talked about synonyms (motivate? bribe? prod?), and eventually someone searched the internet for other uses of the word.

We found that Colin Powell did not coin the word. In fact, even back then we encountered hundreds of hits in Google. "Incentify" had been in use in business for several years, and it contains within its definition motivation that is extrinsic, unlike "motivation" alone where the source of reinforcement can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. My very bright students convinced me that the world needed a more subtle word for extrinsic motivation, especially since the word "bribe" (a word that also describes extrinsic motivation) has such negative connotations. Their research and logic allowed me to get off the ledge without jumping.

Mind you, I was not completely happy. "Incentify" is not completely transparent, after all. One use I found read something like this: "The CFO was incentified to reduce staff." Yes, someone received a bonus for finding ways to get rid of jobs, but doesn't the word incentify lessen the blow? 

Let's fast forward to yesterday. It was early, before 6:00. I hadn't had my morning cappuccino. I wasn't even completely dressed, for heaven's sake, and I heard plain as a bell this new word:


Actually, it wasn't plain at all, and certainly not plain as a bell. It doesn't roll of the tongue. It doesn't make sense even without the "-ing." Eight syllables. Count 'em. What the heck does it mean? 

Yesterday I challenged my AP Lang & Comp students to find a more elegant way to express whatever idea the addled speaker might have been trying to communicate. I'm opening up the challenge to you, my gentle reader, as well. Is there a cleaner way to communicate "disincentificationing"? I'm dying to hear!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Give a little, take a little

Now that Labor Day is behind us, it's time for your favorite grammar person to take a stab at yet another grammar issue, one that many teens and adults "take" for granted. That's right: I'm going to write about the difference between "bring" and "take."

The word "take" is used in so many idioms that sometimes it gets used in place of the word bring. Maybe you have what it takes. We all know it takes one to know one, it takes two to tango, and sometimes you'll witness something that takes the cake. My students, I hope, will take notes. You get the picture.

Idioms involving "bring" add to the confusion. "Bring home the bacon" and "bring it on" are both examples of idiomatic usage of "bring" that violate the rules concerning these words.

What is the difference between the two words? It's pretty simple. You choose the word based on location and destination. "Take" is used when the object is going away from your location. "Bring" is used when the object is coming toward your location. For example, I will take my famous pork sandwich filling to the party. (I'm at home, and I'm going somewhere, in this case to a party, and the pork is going away from me.) If I am feeling under the weather, I might ask my husband to bring me a cup of tea. (In this case, the tea is coming toward me.) In school, I could ask a student to take a book to another teacher (the book is going from my room to different room, again away from me), or I could ask them to bring me their homework (the homework is in their notebooks, and it is moving toward me).

It might take practice to use "bring" and "take" correctly, but you will sound smarter if you make the effort!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer reading

What are you reading this summer?

When we visited Mylène in St. Thomas and stayed at the Ritz, I wanted to see what the other half read. While there were plenty of people texting, I saw no books. Zilch. Nada. Grandmothers, hipsters, vacationing business types, teens, no one had a book open. Maybe it was too hot to read, but I thought I would see a book or two and get an idea of how the rich were different from me in their taste for novels and non-fiction.

It isn't as if I don't have any ideas for books this summer. Right now I'm reading Wolf Hall (I know, I know, that was so last summer) and Edgar Sawtell. Waiting for Stone is waiting for me on my Kindle. There's a stack of books on my nightstand and a bigger stack in the dining room (don't you have stacks of books in YOUR dining room?), but I want to know what other people are reading; I want to be a part of your discussion about your books; I want to hear about books that are so good that I will want to drop what I'm doing right now and leap into a new book.

So, what are you reading? I'm counting on you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Please forgive the delay between posts, but I forgot my login information—even my gmail login. So, take this word from the senile: keep a log of any accounts you use infrequently. It will save hours of trial and error! I hope that you’ll come back and read my blog.