Incidents or incidences?

While I am on the subject of plurals… we have noticed several people on TV recently saying incidences when they are talking about something that has happened. I think they mean to say incidents but get carried away with the importance of the moment. You often hear this kind of overly-formal speech containing made-up long words from emergency services personnel (think the local policeman or fireman) when they are called on to give a report of what happened on TV or radio. Here’s a short excerpt from a book about common errors in English usage by Paul Brians at Washington State University, where he explains the confusion between incident, incidence and instance. However he doesn’t mention this ‘interesting’ (OK, wrong) new plural form. Language change in action?

16 responses to “Incidents or incidences?

  1. I would just like to say that I hear this mistake on TV all the time and it drives me CRAZY (almost as crazy as the CONSTANT misuse of “he/she and I” when it should be “he/she and me”). Thank you for addressing it!🙂

    • Azariah Rosoni Sirleaf

      Well, one has to be aware of the Subjective and Objective cases. I don’t think it’s correct to say, he, she and me! When using these case, use each of them individually in a sentence; like, He is going to the party; She is going to bed; Can you say, Me is going to the party or me is going to bed? So,I believe it should be, he,she and I. She is, he is, I am going to the party or to bed.

  2. Bad example–not “he/she and me” but “Tom and me,” etc.

  3. With Tom and me. Tom and I are.

  4. I grew up with the word “resilience”, but lately, I hear sportscasters using “resiliency”, and it bugs me. It’s grammatically correct, but just like “incidences”, our media will be overrun with words like excellency, abstinency, or pestilency.

  5. I have recently heard broadcasters say what sounds like “incidences” several times. Just in the last month or so, I’m suddenly hearing it so much I had to look it up to make sure I am not misremembering the correct usage. Weird. And ironic! (More incidents, increasing incidence!)

  6. If the word occurrences can be used then incidences is correct.

    • Incidences may be a word but it certainly doesn’t mean multiple incidents, which is what many broadcasters are now using to mean.

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plural for the word “incidence”, though perhaps one might say the following: “The incidence of measles in the U.S. was ‘x’ people per thousand in 2013. The incidence of mumps was ‘y’ people per thousand in 2013. These incidences were much worse than they should have been.”

  8. Language is like an organism; it must grow. The new coinage –incidences is a sign of lexicographic metamomorphosis. Indeed, life is full of dramatic incidences and language helps us to articulate and understand the experience. One advantage is that such incidences benefit our culture by enriching it, and by expanding our consciousness accordingly.
    -Adjunct Professor

    • Yes, language does evolve over time and that can be good as long as it results in clarity.

      How would you define ‘incidences’? Could you use it in a sentence?

  9. Sorry …I should have paid closer attention to George’s post. He does use the word incidences a couple of times.

    However, George, your use of the word incidences appears to be identical to the word ‘incidents’.

  10. I found myself saying ‘incidences’ twice in an interview on Friday, and felt refreshingly absolved of shame and horror when George Oti entered his/ her comment above. How does language start off in the first place anyway? And if ‘incidences’ feels like it adds impact over ‘incidents’ why not be a proponent of a little lexicographic metamorphosis.

  11. I do agree that language can grow. However, I once read this “rule” from an online poster:

    If a new word comes into use that expresses something meaningful that was not previously expressed well by a single word, then it qualifies as a good and useful new word. On the other hand, if a new word comes into being that is already fully expressed by an existing word, then the new word loses its standing as being proper.

    I used to reject the verb “incent”, considering it to be just more business-speak often used in the business world. But then I thought about the “rule” and decided that there really is no single word/verb that works as well as “incent”. One can say, “Provide an incentive to the customer,” or one can say, “Incent the customer.” The word “encourage” doesn’t quite say the same thing as “incent”. So, now I accept “incent”.

    On the other hand, the verb “orientate” (a back-formation) is not proper because we already have the verb “orient”. Likewise, the verb “conversate” is a terrible back-formation. The verb is (and should be) converse.

    I remain uncomfortable with “incindences” when it is used in place of “incidents”.

  12. Another word that TV newscasters use wrong all the time is podium vs. lectern. They almost said someone went to the podium to speak when there is in fact no podium there is only a lectern. You stand on a podium and behind a lectern.

  13. The word misuse that drives me absolutely nuts is “I axed if he was there.” …or he axed me a question. Incidences is only mildly annoying.

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