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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Insipient v. Incipient

Insipient writers often throw in big words like insipient/incipient at incipient stages of their careers. Say that five times fast! To learn how to properly use these words keep reading. If you liked this usage tip check out Garner’s Modern American Usage. To subscribe to his daily tips click here.

incipient; insipient.

The former means “beginning, in an initial stage”; the latter is an obsolete word meaning “unwise, foolish.” But “incipient” is often misspelled with an “-s-” — e.g.:

o “Allen devised a program for factory workers at Bridgeport Machines to detect the signs and symptoms of angina pain and insipient [read 'incipient'] heart attacks.” James Lomuscio, “First a Checkup, Then to Baseball,” N.Y. Times, 6 Aug. 1995, at CN13.

o “What’s more, [Ralph Nader] has tapped into an insipient [read 'incipient'] social movement that raised its voice even before his candidacy came along.” Salim Muwakkil, “Gore: Our Defense Against a 3-Headed Beast,” Chicago Trib., 6 Nov. 2000, Commentary §, at 17.

Given the rarity of “insipient,” it’s a little surprising to see it used correctly — e.g.: “Some legislators tried to change the constitution to allow (and therefore guarantee) unequal and ineffective public education in Texas. Fortunately, they failed to convince their less insipient colleagues and the public of the merits of their ambition.” Editorial, “Texas Public School Finance Needs Efficiency Experts,” Houston Chron., 8 July 2001, Outlook §, at 2.

Recent Comments

  1. mollymooly

    If you’re going to use “the former” and “the latter”, I suggest the order of the two words at issue should be the same in the title as in the subtitle.

  2. Rebecca

    Good point, please accept this blog editor’s apology.

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