English is unceasingly friendly to neologisms; we constantly invent new words and phrases to meet the needs of changing technology, culture, and so on. New technology gave us the words laser and radar, and microwave. Changes in our culture gave us words like the portmanteau words, motel and workaholic. Some neologisms are delightful additions to the language, and help give English its richness and expressiveness.
Some neologisms deserve to be throttled, wrapped up in black plastic, and dropped into the deepest crevices of the Marianas Trench as soon as they are created. Two such words are incent and incentivize.
These so-called words are common among businesspeople, many of whom have an almost obsessive compulsion to sound smart by showing off their big vocabulary. At some point in the 70s, one such businessperson was looking for an impressive-sounding way to say encourage. They looked at the word incentive and decided that its root must be incent. They were wrong. There is (or was, at any rate) no such word as incent.
(To me, incent sounds too much like incense, and thus carries the associated meaning. The first time I heard someone talk of “incenting employees” to do something or other, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Do they really want to infuriate them?” Of course, others might think of the other meaning of incense, the noun form, and that might bring to mind patchouli-soaked hippies.)
Incentivize is a victim of our tendency to think that we can stick the suffix -ize (that’s -ise for those of you in the United Kingdom) on the end of any word to create a verb. Yes, that works in many cases—authorize, legalize, and deputize, for example. But in most cases—especially when you look at some of the examples coming from business jargon—it’s ugly and unnecessary.