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

Has a high-profile, incipient Hall of Famer ever switched numbers like that? Gary Peterson, The Mercury News, "Kevin Durant changes uniform number post-Warriors; he’s not the first one," 8 July 2019 By one count some 75 correspondents covered the incipient Cuba insurgency in the three years leading up to the war. John Maxwell Hamilton, National Geographic, "In a battle for readers, two media barons sparked a war in the 1890s," 16 Apr. 2019 What do incipient organs, traffic jams and the frothy head of foam at the top of a beer glass have in common? Quanta Magazine, "‘Traffic Jams’ of Cells Help to Sculpt Embryos," 27 Sep. 2018 Brass finishes and pops of color everywhere seem to echo Africa’s incipient self-reinvention. Pilar Guzmán, Condé Nast Traveler, "South Africa’s Other Big Five," 20 Dec. 2018 But all this presupposes a kind of bureaucratic enforcement that is incipient at best in 1800. Robert Sullivan, Vogue, "What If There Were No Borders?," 30 Nov. 2018 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

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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Statistics for incipient

Last Updated

11 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for incipient

The first known use of incipient was in 1633

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More Definitions for incipient

incipient

adjective

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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