properly means ‘to bring about by excitement or persuasion, to foment or provoke’, and usually refers to an antisocial or discreditable action, such as violence, wars, revolts, riots, acts of terrorism, or political coups:

• … a radical association that…instigated campus riots that succeeded in closing down a number of universities over a period of months in 1969 —New Yorker, 1975.

Because of its similarity of form to institute, it has been increasingly used in the more neutral meaning ‘to start or set up’, with reference to formal activities such as inquiries, legal proceedings, reviews, and searches:

• The objective of this new phase is to…instigate legal, policy and institutional reforms at the country level —Lloyd's List, 2007.

Passive uses are common:

• The scam has already been the subject of a Welsh television documentary, instigated by Richard's early research —news website, BrE 2003 [OEC].

With so many synonyms available (institute, initiate, launch, establish, inaugurate, etc.), it is a pity that instigate cannot be reserved to its special and useful meaning, but to insist on this now is to support a lost cause, further undermined by the more casual use of the derivative noun instigation, idiomatically in the phrase at the instigation of

• (At Houston's instigation, local jazzmen would play for the youngsters at assemblies and school dances —Guardian, 2007).

We might however continue to fight a rearguard action against the use of instigate with a personal object in place of more suitable words such as encourage and incite:

• ☒ Another group drove civilian vehicles and distributed weapons to the people, instigating them to kill the American troops —weblog, AmE 2004 [OEC].

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Instigate — In sti*gate, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Instigated}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Instigating}.] [L. instigatus, p. p. of instigare to instigate; pref. in in + a root akin to G. stechen to prick, E. stick. See {Stick}.] To goad or urge forward; to set on; to… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • instigate — index abet, agitate (activate), bait (harass), evoke, exhort, foment, impel …   Law dictionary

  • instigate — [in′stə gāt΄] vt. instigated, instigating [< L instigatus, pp. of instigare, to stimulate, incite < in , IN 1 + stigare, to prick: for IE base see STICK] 1. to urge on, spur on, or incite to some action, esp. to some evil [to instigate… …   English World dictionary

  • instigate — ► VERB 1) bring about or initiate. 2) (instigate to/to do) incite (someone) to do. DERIVATIVES instigation noun instigator noun. ORIGIN Latin instigare urge, incite …   English terms dictionary

  • instigate — (v.) 1540s, back formation from instigation or else from L. instigatus, pp. of instigare to urge on, incite (see INSTIGATION (Cf. instigation)). Related: Instigated; instigates; instigating …   Etymology dictionary

  • instigate — *incite, abet, foment Analogous words: *activate, actuate, motivate: *suggest, hint, insinuate: plan, plot, scheme (see under PLAN n) …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • instigate — [v] influence, provoke abet, actuate, add fuel, bring about, egg on*, encourage, fire up*, foment, goad, hint, impel, incite, inflame, initiate, insinuate, kindle, make waves*, move, needle*, persuade, plan, plot, prompt, put up to, rabble rouse* …   New thesaurus

  • instigate — instigatingly, adv. instigative, adj. instigator, instigant /in sti geuhnt/, n. /in sti gayt /, v.t., instigated, instigating. 1. to cause by incitement; foment: to instigate a quarrel. 2. to urge, provoke, or incite to some action or course: to… …   Universalium

  • instigate — v. (esp. BE) (H) to instigate smb. to do smt. * * * [ ɪnstɪgeɪt] (esp. BE) (H) to instigate smb. to do smt …   Combinatory dictionary

  • instigate — UK [ˈɪnstɪɡeɪt] / US [ˈɪnstɪˌɡeɪt] verb [transitive] Word forms instigate : present tense I/you/we/they instigate he/she/it instigates present participle instigating past tense instigated past participle instigated formal to make something start …   English dictionary

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