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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Should you hate the word "responsibilize"?

For some reason, the suffix -ize, which has been hugely productive in English for the last 500 years (the OED lists almosts 3000 words with this ending), tends to raise some people's hackles. "Jeopardize" was roundly attacked in the 19th century, but no one objects to it now, nor to "economize", "terrorize", "formalize", or any number of other -ize words which, at one point, were new coinages. Yet, when people encounter a new (to them) word with this suffix, some of them have hissy fits.
A friend of mine recently came across "responsibilize" in something she was editing and felt she should, in her words, "share this atrocity" with me. Why is "responsibilize" an "atrocity" whereas no one bats an eyelid at the similarly formed "mobilize"  or "stabilize" (both borrowed from French in the 1800s)?  French seems to have fewer qualms about words like this, living happily with "culpabiliser" (make someone feel guilty) and "sensibiliser" (make someone aware of or sensitive to)  -- and expressing those ideas a lot more efficiently than English does, I must say! "Responsabiliser" has been used in French since the 1970s, as indeed "responsibilize" and its derivatives have been in English.
"-ize" is an extraordinarily useful suffix and doesn't deserve the opprobrium it gets.
People, you can't hate a word just because you've never seen it before, any more than you can hate a person just because you've never met them before.


  1. I m going to trust you on this one.

  2. I was looking for a good translation for "responsabiliser" and "empower" did not meet the true meaning from my point of view. I will use "responsibilize" after reading your post.
    Glad to know some French can be of use to simplify English (for once!).
    Thanks a lot


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.