Columns » Words

Words, April 29



Where angels fear to trod:

“McPherson Unit chaplain trods cellblocks where she served 6 years.” Trod is the past tense of tread. The chaplain treads today; she trod yesterday. There is no trods.

I say borrow and you say barrow:

Our March 18 conclusion that bar pit comes from borrow pit did not settle the issue for Bruce Wood of Conway. He writes that when he was a child in Corning, his father explained to him that the dirt used to build up the highway “came from the bar pits just off the roadway. He said the word was spelled barrow, like a wheelbarrow. If, as [a previous contributor] pointed out, narrows is colloquially pronounced nars, then perhaps barrow likewise comes out bar.”

Perhaps. I turned to Random House for help, but it wasn't much. There's a listing for bar pit, which is described as a Western U.S. term, but the entry says only “See barrow pit.” Barrow pit, also described as “Western U.S.” is defined as “a roadside borrow pit dug for drainage purposes.” And borrow pit? It's a civil engineering term for “a pit from which construction material, as sand or gravel, is taken for use as fill at another location.” We seem to be going in circles.

Incensed over incented:

“Many corporations assume that agencies that accept equity in lieu of cash will be more incented because they will have ‘skin in the game.'”

Barbara Jaquish writes, “I've ground my teeth over ‘incentivize' and now comes ‘incented.' Tell me this is an anomaly and this ugly word won't take off.”

How I wish I could give such an assurance. I'd never heard of incented until I received the Jaquish e-mail, and now I'm losing sleep over it. The ever-alert Bryan Garner has kept his eyes open, though. He says in his Modern American Usage that incentivize and incent are neologisms that have become vogue words, especially in American business jargon, and concludes “There is no good incentive to use either one.”

Add a comment