Student guest post: The incessant rise of ‘-ize’

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the second of those posts. Ali Amoroso is a senior journalism and global studies double major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She chose these two majors to combine her interests in global health and copy editing. If she’s not reading Paul Farmer’s most recent book or editing a friend’s paper, she most likely has her nose buried in some type of historical fiction.

A noun serves as the subject of a sentence; a verb expresses the action of a sentence. So then why is the line between the two being blurred by transforming nouns into verbs by simply adding -ize at the end?

Words like these are becoming increasingly popular in the media, which leads to an increase in general usage. Following Brit Hume’s recommendation to Tiger Woods to convert from Buddhism to Christianity, “proselytize” made it onto Merriam-Webster’s Top Twenty list of the most looked-up words for a few days in January 2010.

The word “proselytize” comes from the noun “proselyte,” which means a new convert. It is just one of many in this new class of verbs that has been on the rise for centuries as nouns are transformed for action purposes.

Though the verb “proselytize” is now more commonly used than its original noun, it is even newer “ize” words that particularly irk me. Take “incentivize,” for example. In 1994, Merriam-Webster said that incentivize “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.”

“Incentivize” is a word I’ve barely been exposed to in everyday speech, yet reputable news media use it — even in their headlines as The New York Times does in “Incentivize Your Way to Good Health in 2011.” Though the article is pointing out the multitude of incentives offered by health care companies, the use of “incentivize” in the headline and throughout the content is inelegant and unnecessary.

As if parts of speech can be disregarded for the ease of writing, authors today commonly add “ize” in order to turn chosen nouns into verbs. Words like democratize, prioritize and finalize rear their ugly heads in news stories despite their newness, which does not occur with other new words that journalists tend to avoid at all costs.

Though the English language is constantly evolving — and is often applauded for this characteristic — these new verbs are creating a new form of jargon that should be avoided in journalistic writing. Keep the line between verbs and nouns distinct.



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