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 If the incipient boom is to produce better results, governments and firms must learn to adopt best practice from around the world. The Economist, "Public investment How to get infrastructure right," 30 Dec. 2020 Those friends, Max and Diane, and their other friend, Martin, seem to handle their incipient panic by speaking in non sequiturs about Einstein, philosophy, Jesus. Alexander Chee, The New Republic, "Life in the Post-Internet Dystopia," 29 Dec. 2020 The question now is whether the incipient recovery of the median household income that lines up with the era that began on November 8, 2016, will continue. Joseph W. Sullivan, National Review, "The U.S. Middle Class’s Exceptionally Long Decline — and Recent Recovery," 24 Nov. 2020 The incipient tropical storm will likely pass near or just west of the British Overseas Territory during the late morning and early afternoon on Saturday, with breezy winds and rain squalls affecting the islands. Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post, "Eta to become tropical storm again and unleash heavy rain, strong winds in Cuba and Florida," 6 Nov. 2020 To Republicans, Obama and his top allies, particularly Hillary Clinton, were incipient authoritarians. David Rohde, The New Yorker, "How America Escapes Its Conspiracy-Theory Crisis," 29 Oct. 2020 This is how skin grafts are detected and rejected; how incipient cancers are disposed of; how cells that have been co-opted by viruses are rooted out. James Somers, The New Yorker, "How the Coronavirus Hacks the Immune System," 2 Nov. 2020 The number of workers filing new unemployment claims fell last week, the government reported on Thursday, but the levels remain achingly high as the incipient economic recovery struggles to maintain a foothold. Ben Casselman, New York Times, "Unemployment Claims Are Down, but Many Workers Lower Expectations," 22 Oct. 2020 The direction and planning of the incipient Louvre luckily fell into the hands of two remarkable fonctionnaires who, more than anyone else, are responsible for its character. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "In Love with the Louvre," 19 Oct. 2020

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 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Incipient.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incipient. Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.

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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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Comments on incipient

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