early 15c., from L.L. incentivum
, noun use of neut. L. adj. incentivus
"setting the tune" (in L.L. "inciting"), from stem of incinere
"strike up," from in-
"in, into" + canere
"sing" (see chant
). Sense influenced by association with incendere
"to kindle." The adjective use, in reference to a system of rewards meant to encourage harder work, first attested 1943 in jargon of the U.S. war economy; as a noun, in this sense, from 1948.