Saturday, September 23, 2006

'to incent' and productivity

Sunday's Dilbert cartoon strip (not up yet, but to be posted on Sunday, presumably) uses 'to incent' and my instant reaction was 'oh, another one of those businessy back formations'. Of course, it turns out that the word has been around for decades, according to various sources and I slowly realized that I've heard and seen it before. And naturally a lot of the URLs discussing it are of the 'is this a word?' and 'you can't say that' type.

This set me to wondering if people somehow react worse to back formations than to other sorts of morphological productivity. I just used -y above without thinking about it, but a lot of well-established back formations sound odd to me and I wonder if they get the same reaction from other people. Just look at some examples given by wikipedia: to burgle and to tweeze sound humorous, to sightsee a little weird, and to commentate sounds televisiony.

Maybe there's some socio-morphology out there to be done ...

Update, Sunday, Sept. 24: The strip is now on the website.

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