JS Tip 467: Continuing the Discussion on New Words

From the Writing Workshops: Good New Words

Last week, we talked about how some people use newly invented words to draw attention to themselves: “Hey. Look at me. I’m using a new word. Isn’t it cool?”

We talked about incentivize and mentee. We suggested encourage and protégé, and we suggested they draw less attention to themselves.

During the week, Dave Bjarnason of Utah Retirement Systems shared an excellent counter-argument for incentivize:

  • In a business context, the word incentivize makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes more sense than a substitute word such as encourage

    Incentivize means to encourage a behavior in a very specific way— by providing incentives. It comes out of economic theory, specifically the idea that people make rational decisions and respond to various incentives whether those incentives are financial, reputational, social, etc.

    In a business context, it’s a useful word with a specific meaning.

    In other contexts, yeah, it should probably be avoided.

An excellent comment.

An excellent thought.

And notice the process: As we write—or speak—we should ask ourselves, “Does the word pay its dues? Does it have meaning or is it just style?”

Good communication focuses on meaning. Style is secondary.


We’re grateful for the comments. Thank you.

We love this stuff.

We really do.


Mark Brooks