In his post "In defense of Amazon's Mechanical Turk", Chris Potts wrote "Overall, the workers are incentivized to do well". David M. Chess commented
Interesting post! Thanks for writing it up.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1994) says of incentivize that "This is perhaps the most recent of the infamous verbs that end in -ize", noting that the members of a usage panel in 1985 "rejected it almost unanimously with varying degrees of disgust and horror".
But why are coinages in -ize such an enduring source of disgust and horror?
In 1980, Jacques Barzun argued that containerize was "unnecessary jargon", since the verb box was already available. In 1976, Edwin Newman objected strongly to prioritize, personalize, traumatize, and hospitalize (A Civil Tongue, in a section entitled "Them there ize"). In 1870, Richard Grant White said that jeopardize was "a foolish and intolerable word" — he recommended in its place the verb jeopard. And skipping back over a few centuries of documented revulsion, we find the OED leading off its entry for -ize with this citation:
1591 NASHE Introd. Sidney's Astr. & Stella in P. Penilesse (Shaks. Soc.) p. xxx, Reprehenders, that complain of my boystrous compound wordes, and ending my Italionate coyned verbes all in ize.
The context of this phrase is amusing enough to quote at greater length:
The ploddinger sort of unlearned Zoilists about London exclaim that it is a puft-up stile, and full of prophane eloquence: others object unto me the multitude of my boystrous compound wordes, and the often coyning of Italionate verbes, which end all in ize, as mummianize, tympanize, tirannize. To the first array of my clumperton antagonists this I answer — that my stile is no otherwise puft up, then any mans should be which writes with any spirite; and whom would not such a devine subject put a high ravishte spirite into? For the prophaneness of my eloquence, so they may terme the eloquence of Sainct Austin, Jerome, Chrysostome, prophane, since none of them but takes unto him faire more liberty of tropes, figures, and metaphors, and alleadging heathen examples and histories.
To the second rancke of reprehenders, that complain of my boystrous compound wordes, and ending my Italionate coyned verbes all in ize, thus I reply: that no winde that blowes strong but is boystrous, no speech or wordes, or any power of force to confute or persuade, but must be swelling and boystrous. For the compounding of my wordes, therein I imitate rich men, who, having gathered store of white single money together, convert a number of those small little scutes into great peeces of gold, such as double pistols and Portugues. Our English tongue, of all languages, most swarmeth with the single money of monasillables, which are the onely scandal of it. Bookes written in them, and no other, seeme like shop-keepers boxes, that contain nothing else save halfe-pence, three farthings and two-pences. Therefore, what did me I, but having a huge heape of those worthlesse shreds of small English in my pia mater's purse, had them to the compounders immediately, and exchanged them foure into one, and others into more, according to the Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian.
Come, my maisters, enure your mouths to it, and never trust me, but when you have tride the commodity of carrying much in a small roome, you will, like the apothecaries, use more compounds than simples, and graft wordes as men do their trees, to make them more fruitfull. My upbraided Italionate verbes are the least crime of a thousand, since they are growne in generall request with every good poet.
Besides, they carrie farre more state with them then any other, and are not halfe so harsh in their desinence as the old hobling English verbes ending in r: they express more than any other verbes whatsoever, and that substantives would be quite barraine of verbs, but for that ending. This word mummianized, in the beginning of my first Epistle, is shrewdly called into question, for no other reason, that I can conceive, but that his true derivative, which is mummy, is somewhat obscure also: to phisitions and their confectioners it is as familiar as mumchance among pages, being nothing else but mans flesh long buried and broyled in the burning sands of Arabia. Hereupon I have taken up this phrase of Jerusalems mummianized earth manured with mans flesh. Express who can the same substance so briefly in any other word but that. A man may murder any thing if hee list in the mouthing, and grinde it to powder extempore betwixt a huge paire of jawes, but let a quest of calme censors goe upon it betwixt the houres of sixe and seaven in the morning, and they will, in their grave wisdome, subscribe to it as tollerable and significant.
Neologisms in -ize have been springing up in English like mushrooms for five hundred years. Some of them catch on, while others don't — among the three that Nashe cites, tyrannize is in common use today, while tympanize and mummianize are not. The general pattern seems to be that some people react very negatively to a certain class of -ize coinages, for a generation or so, and then those that have endured lose their taint. I doubt that David would react to tyrannize, and probably not to hospitalize. But for now, incentivize is still stigmatized. (The efforts of Edwin Newman and others also probably have played a role in sensitizing people to certain coinages; also, I have the impression that words coined in business or advertising, like incentivize and accessorize, are much more likely to annoy people, in contrast to words from science, like randomize and pressurize.)
One interesting thing about the -ize stigma is that it seems to apply only to words based on common nouns (and in some cases, adjectives), not those derived from names. Thus as far as I know, there has never been any objection to galvanize, mesmerize, bowdlerize, mercerize, chaptalize, vulcanize; or for that matter to hellenize, romanize, americanize.
There's also apparently a special license for scientific words — thus randomize, dating from 1926, and pressurize, dating from 1940, never seems to have been a source of disgust and horror.
But otherwise, a strong initial revulsion to -ize coinages based on common nouns has apparently been in effect for nearly half a millennium. With respect to each particular coinage, the reaction eventually fades if the word sticks around. Judging by hospitalize (first spotted in 1901) and traumatize (first spotted in 1903), which Edwin Newman railed against in 1976 but which seem to be generally accepted today, it can take up to a century for -ize coinages in the general vocabulary to make it out of quarantine. (Perhaps the half-life of -ize peeves has decreased a bit lately. The OED dates accessorize to 1929, and Bryan Garner condemned it in the 1998 edition of Modern American Usage — "neologisms ending in -ize are generally to be discouraged, for they are invariably ungainly and often superfluous. Thus we have no use for accessorize, …" — but this prescription seems to have been dropped from the 2009 edition.)
I'm puzzled by the durability and specificity of this set of prescriptive reactions. Is it just a random development, like the attitudes about stranded prepositions, with each generation inheriting from its parents what was originally a completely gratuitous prejudice? Or is there a genuine source of cultural tension in the morpheme -ize and the way it's used to form (some) new words?