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A Neologism a Day Keeps the Clarity Away

This story is all kinds of stupid. But rather than delve into politics, let’s instead focus on that awful word in the second-to-last paragraph: disincentivize.

So…what the heck? Whatever happened to discourage? Or dissuade? Or deter? (“These are words with a little D this time.”) Do we really need such a monstrosity as disincentivize?

Neither my 1993 edition of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary nor my 2000 American Heritage Dictionary has an entry for it. Both, however, have one for disincentive. The former defines it as “a source of discouragement, esp. in an economic or commercial matter”; the latter as “something that prevents or discourages action; a deterrent.” Meanwhile, the only instance in which disincentive appears in my thesaurus (Bartlett’s Roget’s, 1996), is as a synonym for deterrence.

Of course, the armies of “progress” march unabated. Witness dictionary.com, which defines disincentivize as “to discourage or deter by removing incentives.” But isn’t that at least a little redundant? I mean, the very act of discouragement is, be definition, removing an incentive, right?

So, basically, we’ve created a word that we didn’t need. And a damn ugly word to boot.



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