This is a comment from a discussion on The effects of exercise on depression:

For severe depression, this actually is pretty much the treatment routine. Pills to get just the tiniest amount of motivation, cognitive behavioral therapy to pence that motivation towards positive activities like regular exercise instead of suicide.

Sounds severe, but that's how problematic deep depressions often are.

What does pence mean mentioned above? I've looked it up, but I couldn't find an entry in the dictionaries that defines pence in verb form.

  • It's never anything I've heard or read before, but my guess, after loading the contextual debugger, is that the speaker uses a transitive verb to pence as short for something like 'to move in penny-packets'. In/By penny-packets is not a phrase I use -- I'm American -- but I've run across it in print. It means roughly what Americans would say as 'in bits and pieces; gradually'. Nov 3, 2013 at 18:24
  • 1
    I would say it's likely to be a typo. "Pence" does not seem to be used as a verb, since Google searching for "pencing" and "penced" don't yield any reasonable results. I can't figure out what it's a typo for, though. Nov 3, 2013 at 18:35
  • 1
    @Peter Shor My wife, who is a retired psychotherapist, does not recognise the term, reinforcing your theory of a typo. Do you suppose it could be something to do with 'penchant', meaning a tendency? That would seem to sort of fit with the context. Penchant comes from the French verb 'pencher', to lean or incline.
    – WS2
    Nov 3, 2013 at 19:30
  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a (meaningless, incorrect) "one-off" usage. Perhaps an error for dispense (direct, distribute, apportion). Nov 3, 2013 at 20:00
  • 3
    The intended meaning is clear from context (I'd say channel or direct) but I too cannot make any sense of the word, or think of anything it might be a typo for.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 4, 2013 at 0:08

3 Answers 3


I contacted the author of the quoted example and this is the response I got (emphasis mine):

In this context it's supposed to be analogous to "guide" or "direct". The point of my argument being that antidepressants increase motivation for severely depressed. Unfortunately that motivation can be turned into negative activity, like attempting suicide or other forms of self harm, behaviors that earlier on was not enacted because the depression was so severe that there wasn't even enough motivation to go through with the suicide/self-harm, even if the self-loathing etc was even lower than it became after medication.

It's known in psychiatry that medicating severely depressed people, can cause an increase in suicide attempts. This is well documented. This is because there is now a little motivation, where earlier it was literally zero. That's why I said the motivation had to be "penced" towards healthy cognition and behavior.

They then followed up with a second message explaining where "pence" originated:

In my language "å pense" means to change the "switch" on a railroad track, so that when the train hits that fork, it will move to the left instead of right or vice versa.

So it was not a typo, but a mistranslation from a Germanic language, specifically Norwegian.

  • 3
    Good research! Never would have guessed that Norwegian was the culprit. Learnt a new word in Norwegian, too. Kult. :-) Mar 5, 2014 at 22:57

My guess is a spell-checker correction for the neologism incent (first use 1981).


Pence derives etymologically from the Latin for thought (pensee in French). In this case, a pseudo-noun (compare recompense), perhaps misspelled, is being used to imply that a tiny bit of "thought power" is applied to mean moving a depression patient toward a desired goal.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.