Bad Words Like Incent
Which one or more of the following is not recognized as a word in the English language?
They are all recognized as words, though usage experts frown on all four. They are all classified as back-formation words (from administer, enthusiasm, incentivize, orientation). Some back-formation words catch on and gain approval from usage experts. Examples include escalate from escalator and diagnose from diagnosis. (For usage statements in this post, I draw entirely on a post here.)
Incent appears to be struggling. It is a young word, first appearing in 1977 and next in 1981. But, in legal scholarship, a boon threatens. Since its first appearance in a law review article, in 1992 (in Nebraska Law Review), through 2008, it appeared only 33 times total, never more than five times in any year and not at all in four of those years. But in 2009, incent appeared in 16 law review articles, including in three other admirable flagship journals (Boston College, Cardozo and Texas Law Reviews).
I join the usage experts, and some legal scholars like Ann Bartow (see here), to frown on the word and write this post to discourage its future appearance in law reviews. I do this with some hesitation, however, as the word has appeared in excellent articles by two colleagues, one current and one former, and several other scholars whose work I likewise know and esteem. It also has appeared in other flagship journals I admire (Case Western, Connecticut, Stanford and Wisconsin).
Even so, I urge authors and editors to eschew this back-formation. Indeed, I appreciate how the word’s only law review appearance in 1999 took the form of a quotation, with [sic] inserted afterwards. Nice job, Rob Merges and the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.