Garner on “incentivize”

I never thought it would happen, but I disagree with Bryan Garner. (If you don’t know I’m referring to the author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, and you don’t own it, well, you should go buy it because you’re likely living in partial darkness. It’s the best book on usage out there—by far.)

Garner says that incentivize is best avoided in favour of provide an incentive for. I know why he’s inclined to this judgment. The word is overused. It’s a buzzword word—in Garner’s terms, a “vogue word.” It’s also used incorrectly or superfluously to give flaccid thinking an air of profundity. In short, a quick look at its use and you feel compelled to conclude along with Garner that incentivize has everything stacked against it.

Except one thing: it’s a useful and concise word when you’re actually talking about incentives. Try writing and editing economics or policy that discusses incentives and you’ll find that it really comes down to the math. Use Garner’s four-word version four times and you’ve got 12 more words than you would have had if you’d used incentivize. I say the case is closed. Let us welcome incentivize with open arms.


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