Writing for Business

May 5 2010   2:53PM GMT

Verbing nouns

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Funds made available through the HITECH Act are expected to ________ faster adoption of electronic health records.
a. motivate
b. incentivize
c. incent

Answer: a

Motivate is your best choice here. Incentivize came into use around 1970 but it’s not universally accepted — and why would it be? Ick. And then you have people talking about incentivizing their employees and so on. Let’s try and keep that to a minimum, shall we?

More recently, incent has been heard in business contexts. Both incentivize and incent are examples of what’s being called verbing: turning other parts of speech — typically nouns — into verbs. (Verbing is an example of verbing, of course.)

Here’s a sampling of recently verbed nouns:

Bangalored, as in “They Bangalored tech support.” (outsourced tech support to Bangalore.)

caveat, as in “We should caveat the end users about the security risk.” (warn the end users) According to Visual Thesaurus, caveat has been used as a verb before — just not in recent centuries.

greenlight, as in “We’ll greenlight that project as soon as the funds are available.” (We’ll give permission for that project to start.)

dialogue, as in “Let’s dialogue about that project.” (talk) This is not a new one, not at all. But still objectionable. I objection it.

language, as in “Let’s language about that later.” (communicate using language — but wouldn’t business discussions be more fun using pantomime?) I thought they were kidding about languaging until I saw 108,000 Google hits for it.

And then you’ve got the verbed nouns that have been around so long they seem completely natural, like chair, document, microwave. It occurs to me that motivate might have begun life as a noun, itself.

Use drives acceptance. So let’s be judicious about the nouns we verb and the verbs we noun. Yes, I said verbs we noun, for example:

ask, as in “When we get to the client meeting, which one of us is going to make the ask regarding the contract extension?” (make the request)

That one comes from Douglas Malcolm, who hears it in the wild. He reports that it’s also used in that other bounteous font of jargon, academia.

The Office Life provides The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary. (They do note, however, that they hope people won’t use the site as a resource for increasing their jargon vocabs.)

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