in·​sip·​id in-ˈsi-pəd How to pronounce insipid (audio)
: lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate, or challenge : dull, flat
insipid prose
: lacking taste or savor : tasteless
insipid food
insipidity noun
insipidly adverb

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Insipid vs. Incipient

There are those who claim that these two words are commonly confused, though the collected evidence in our files doesn’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.

Choose the Right Synonym for insipid

insipid, vapid, flat, jejune, banal, inane mean devoid of qualities that make for spirit and character.

insipid implies a lack of sufficient taste or savor to please or interest.

an insipid romance with platitudes on every page

vapid suggests a lack of liveliness, force, or spirit.

an exciting story given a vapid treatment

flat applies to things that have lost their sparkle or zest.

although well-regarded in its day, the novel now seems flat

jejune suggests a lack of rewarding or satisfying substance.

a jejune and gassy speech

banal stresses the complete absence of freshness, novelty, or immediacy.

a banal tale of unrequited love

inane implies a lack of any significant or convincing quality.

an inane interpretation of the play

Examples of insipid in a Sentence

While it is fashionable to write off that decade as an insipid time, one long pajama party, the '50s, in sport at least, were a revolutionary age. Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated, 27 Dec. 1999–31 Jan. 2000
I'd climbed and fished in the emptiest reaches of the American West, but Alaska made the wilds of the lower 48 seem insipid and tame, a toothless simulacrum. Jon Krakauer, Smithsonian, June 1995
By contrast, what we know as "popular" or "mass" culture has always conformed to the most insipid prejudices, and the least subtle formulations, of society. Joyce Carol Oates, The Profane Art, 1983
One evening, over beers, Rasala complained about some insipid movie recently shown on TV. Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine, 1981
The soup was rather insipid. an apple pie with a mushy, insipid filling that strongly resembled soggy cardboard See More
Recent Examples on the Web On a good day, our two-year-long presidential election cycle often seems like a lengthy road trip spent in the company of the world’s most insipid people. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 6 Oct. 2023 This cocktail already has quite a bit of fruit, and more of it from the spirit makes the whole thing shallow and insipid, so go VSOP or older, even an XO. Jason O'Bryan, Robb Report, 12 Aug. 2023 Vlatko Andonovski’s team has looked insipid in all three of its games. Rory Smith, New York Times, 4 Aug. 2023 Even then, the berries that survived to make it to market were bloated, insipid and expensive. Melissa Clark, New York Times, 24 May 2023 The maidens were neither cruel nor insipid but daring, principled, and compassionate. Merve Emre, The New Yorker, 27 Feb. 2023 But insipid décor isn’t the only route to a placid space. Yelena Moroz Alpert,, 12 May 2023 The obsession with bugs, though, perfectly encapsulates the insipid but dangerous battlefield that meat now represents in America’s perpetual culture war. Jan Dutkiewicz, The New Republic, 17 Apr. 2023 But a good hash needn't be bland or insipid. Beth Dooley Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 13 Jan. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'insipid.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French & Late Latin; French insipide, from Late Latin insipidus, from Latin in- + sapidus savory, from sapere to taste — more at sage

First Known Use

1609, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of insipid was in 1609

Dictionary Entries Near insipid

Cite this Entry

“Insipid.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


in·​sip·​id in-ˈsip-əd How to pronounce insipid (audio)
: lacking taste or flavor : tasteless
: not interesting or exciting : dull, flat
insipid fiction
insipidity noun
insipidly adverb

from French insipide and Latin insipidus, both meaning "insipid, tasteless," from earlier Latin in- "not" and sapidus "having good flavor," from sapere "to taste" — related to sage entry 1, savant

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