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!