Definition of incipient
- an incipient solar system
- evidence of incipient racial tension
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP
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.
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.
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.
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."
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