incipient

adjective
in·​cip·​i·​ent | \ in-ˈsi-pē-ənt How to pronounce incipient (audio) \

Definition of incipient

: beginning to come into being or to become apparent an incipient solar system evidence of incipient racial tension

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Other Words from incipient

incipiently adverb

Insipid vs. Incipient

There are those who claim that these two words are commonly confused, though the collected evidence in our files don’t support that claim (in edited prose, that is). If there is confusion, it is likely because incipient is sometimes used in constructions where its meaning is not clear.

Insipid is less common than incipient, but it is used more in general prose and with much more clarity than incipient is. Insipid means “weak,” and it can refer to people (“insipid hangers-on”), things (“what an insipid idea,” “painted the room an insipid blue,” “he gave his boss an insipid smile”), and specifically flavors or foods (“an insipid soup,” “the cocktail was insipid and watery”).

Incipient, on the other hand, is more common than insipid is and means “beginning to come into being or become apparent.” It has general use (“an incipient idea,” “incipient racial tensions”), but also has extensive specialized use in medicine (“an incipient disease”) and other scientific fields (“an incipient star in a distant galaxy”). But general use of incipient is sometime vague at best:

But devaluing grand slams to 3 1/2 runs has irked even the guys it was meant to pacify. "They're messing with the game," says incipient slugger Randy Johnson (three grannies already this spring). "Not to mention my RBI totals."
ESPN, 14 June 1999

Among my generation of aesthetes, bohemians, proto-dropouts, and incipient eternal students at Sydney University in the late 1950s, Robert Hughes was the golden boy.
— Clive James, The New York Review, 11 Jan. 2007

This menu looks traditional but embraces ingredients and ideas that have become incipient classics in American cuisine, such as portobello mushrooms, fresh mozzarella and mango.
— Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator, 30 Nov. 1995

Incipient is rarely used of people, and so the first example is an atypical use of the word. As for the other examples, can something that is just beginning to emerge be eternal, or a classic? Uses like this tend to confuse the reader.

If you find yourself unsure of which word to use, follow the rule that when referring to someone or something weak, use insipid, and when referring to something that is newly apparent or newly begun, use incipient.

Did You Know?

A good starting point for any investigation of "incipient" is the Latin verb incipere, which means "to begin." "Incipient" first emerged in English in a 1669 scientific text that referred to "incipient putrefaction." Later came the genesis of two related nouns, "incipiency" and "incipience," both of which are synonymous with "beginning." "Incipere" also stands at the beginning of the words "inception" ("an act, process, or instance of beginning") and "incipit," a term that literally means "it begins" and which was used for the opening words of a medieval text. "Incipere" itself derives from another Latin verb, capere, which means "to take" or "to seize."

Examples of incipient in a Sentence

The project is still in its incipient stages. I have an incipient dislike and distrust of that guy, and I only met him this morning.
Recent Examples on the Web Many believe that the Powell Fed has listened to good advice, and thus thwarted an incipient recession. John Authers | Bloomberg, Washington Post, "Is This Goldilocks Moment Too Good to Be True?," 8 Dec. 2019 The estate includes a gorgeous cherry orchard (not seen but much talked about), a metaphor for useless beauty in the incipient Industrial Age. Christopher Arnott, courant.com, "Review: A welcome, traditional production of Chekhov’s classic ‘Cherry Orchard’ at CT Rep," 7 Oct. 2019 Instead, weather patterns featuring lighter-than-usual winds allow waters to heat up, and unless fall and winter storms churn enough cooler water up from below, the incipient Blob could expand and intensify. Author: Andrew Freedman, Lauren Tierney, Anchorage Daily News, "Marine heat wave dubbed ‘Blob’ resurges in Pacific; mass deaths of sea life feared," 21 Sep. 2019 That gets to the heart of the incipient independence movement. The Economist, "An act of vandalism sparks more talk of independence in Wales," 22 Aug. 2019 Such skills would have required careful observation and mimicry, step-by-step instruction, and an ability to hold a long series of events in one’s mind—an incipient form of plot. Ferris Jabr, Harper's magazine, "The Story of Storytelling," 10 Mar. 2019 In the 32 cases where incipient, or early, decay was detected, the cookies showed one additional cavity. Jan Ellen Spiegel, Quartz, "Scientists are finding that forests aren’t as good at fighting climate change as we thought," 12 Sep. 2019 However, Gulf intensification beyond that level of strength would not be favored given the incipient storm’s short life span over water. Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post, "5 p.m. - Tropical storm warning issued for northwest Bahamas," 12 Sep. 2019 How does the incipient streaming war play out over the next several months? Geoff Colvin, Fortune, "The Battle Between AT&T and its Angriest Investor is Just Getting Started. Here’s What to Watch for Next," 10 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'incipient.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of incipient

1633, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for incipient

Latin incipient-, incipiens, present participle of incipere to begin — more at inception

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Time Traveler for incipient

Time Traveler

The first known use of incipient was in 1633

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Last Updated

12 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Incipient.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incipient. Accessed 21 January 2020.

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More Definitions for incipient

incipient

adjective
How to pronounce incipient (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of incipient

formal : beginning to develop or exist

incipient

adjective
in·​cip·​i·​ent | \ -ənt How to pronounce incipient (audio) \

Medical Definition of incipient

: beginning to come into being or to become apparent the incipient stage of a fever

Other Words from incipient

incipiently adverb

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