incipient

adjective
in·​cip·​i·​ent | \in-ˈsi-pē-ənt \

Definition of incipient 

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Maybe your partner’s drinking too much, or there’s a drug addiction incipient problem, or the health isn’t that great in the family, or just mental illnesses. Eric Johnson, Recode, "We have to rewrite antitrust law to deal with tech monopolies, says ‘Positive Populism’ author Steve Hilton," 24 Oct. 2018 And yet, earlier this month the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that the growth in air cargo demand is slowing and blamed the incipient trade war. Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times, "Boeing predicts strong growth in world’s airplane fleet, looking past near-term uncertainties," 16 July 2018 This is also home to Strike Oil, an incipient street wear line overseen by Nats and featuring her artwork. New York Times, "Growing Up Getty," 23 June 2018 The change in posture instead mirrors the Trump administration’s evolution in many other areas, from the Iran deal to incipient trade wars. Benjamin Hart, Daily Intelligencer, "Giuliani: Trump Won’t Sit Down for Mueller Interview Without a Fight," 7 July 2018 Many models for future climates show an increase in wind shear, the crisscrossing high-altitude winds that tear up incipient tropical cyclones. David Fleshler, latimes.com, "The world has never seen a Category 6 hurricane. But the day may be coming," 7 July 2018 Rather than growing, these incipient planets tend to splinter after reaching pebble size. Sarah Kaplan, chicagotribune.com, "Many asteroids might be remnants of 5 destroyed worlds, scientists say," 3 July 2018 Every cough is pneumonia, every chest pain a heart attack, every headache a possible brain cancer or incipient stroke. New York Times, "A New Approach to Treating Hypochondria," 18 June 2018 For good measure, infant tyke Jack-Jack hilariously begins displaying his potential with incipient displays of Incredible behavior. Todd Mccarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Incredibles 2': Film Review," 11 June 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of incipient

1669, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for incipient

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about incipient

Listen to Our Podcast about incipient

Statistics for incipient

Last Updated

14 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for incipient

The first known use of incipient was in 1669

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for incipient

incipient

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of incipient

: beginning to develop or exist

incipient

adjective
in·​cip·​i·​ent | \-ənt \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on incipient

What made you want to look up incipient? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

full of whispering sounds

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!