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Inchoate \in-ˈkō-ət, ˈin-kə-ˌwāt\

Adjective

Origin: Latin inchoātus, past participle of inchoāre, to begin

What is inchoate?  This blog is inchoate.  My journey is inchoate.  My career is inchoate.

An unfinished process, one in its early stages.  A journey somewhere between its beginning and its unknown end.  A tadpole.

This is my first weekly word, and one day I will have amassed a collection of interesting and underrated words right here.  Today, though, it is only just the beginning, it is in its initial stages: it is inchoate.

So apart from referring to something in its rudimentary stages, how else can we use inchoate?  I found two specific applications, one from law and one from linguistics.

Legal: An inchoate offense

This is criminal conduct which occurs without actual harm resulting.  It is criminal because if it had continued to its intended conclusion, it would have caused harm considered criminal.

A common inchoate offense is conspiracy, for example to perform a terrorist act.  I’m guessing that the 23 year old Nigerian man Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who attempted to bring down a plane over the United States last Christmas may have been charged with an inchoate offense.  Among others.

Linguistic:  An inchoative aspect

This is a linguistic concept which I am still trying to grasp, but I will post what I have gleaned from my reading so far.

An inchoative aspect refers to a verb whose action is beginning to occur.  It is not about to start – it is already occurring – but its beginning is still remembered. It has not finished, but is continuing to an unknown point.

The inchoative aspect can be difficult for English speakers to grasp because it doesn’t really exist in our language.  The closest we can get is to combine verbs such as ‘started’ and ‘got’ with a gerund, like ‘walking’ and ‘wet’.  ‘I started walking’ is kind of close to the inchoative aspect, suggesting an event which is beginning to occur, and will continue to an unknown point.  Maybe ‘I just started walking’ would be better.

In some languages, you can say all of this in one word, and Hebrew is one of them. There is a word in Hebrew that literally means ‘to start being lain down’.

Right now I’m writing from Israel, so this is particularly apt for me.

So, now that we’ve explored this word inchoate, what do we do with it?  Here are some suggestions for how you can integrate this vaguely weird sounding word into your generally cool vernacular:

To a customer at the café: Your meal’s on its way, but right now it’s kind of inchoate.

To an aggro driver:  Don’t cut me off you inchoate tool!

To someone in the morning: I just need a coffee and I’ll move on from this inchoate phase.

About Sydney public transport service: Compared to services in other parts of the country and the world, it’s rather inchoate.

An indecisive person might say: My plans are always inchoate.

Please feel free to comment if you feel like any of these uses are stretching the friendly relationship between word and woman, language and l’homme.

Have a great week!

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3 thoughts on “Inchoate \in-ˈkō-ət, ˈin-kə-ˌwāt\

  1. An excellent word. I first heard it in a history lecture at university. My lecturer used it to describe the state of Europe as it slowly changed shape from the Roman Empire and an ancient world, into the Medieval and Feudal Europe. She loved the word, pointing out that she was using it, and how smart it made her feel. I think she used the word three or four time a lecture for a few weeks. Each time she used it she would get a twinkle in her eye. We would wait for her to comment on how lovely a word it was, how perfectly it described a Europe in which all the ingredients for its new modern shape were present, the forces at work, yet still in the process of formation.

  2. Ah, my thoughts are quite inchoate about this.
    But what came to mind when I saw the word “inchoate” was the word “chocolate”; and then Daniel in his comment mentioned the “ingredients for the modern shape of Europe”.
    So I like the idea of inchoate chocolate, that transition point when you are melting chocolate in a steamer to make a chocolate mousse (nice word too!). Maybe we should combine these nice words to make “inchoate mousse”? Yes, that’s what chocolate is, inchoate mousse. Would you like a piece of inchoate mousse?

  3. This is such a beautiful word to begin with! I doubt I am bold enough to use it, but I have hope! Images of flower buds ready to bloom. 🙂 Thank you Nina!

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