ri-kêm-bênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: No, this is not a Republican incumbent but an adjective meaning: 1. In a lying or reclining position as if at rest, as a recumbent bicycle on which you lie back to pedal. 2. Resting; idle, not active. 3. [Biology] Resting on the surface from which it grows, as a plant or bodily organ.
Notes: This adjective always reminds me of the Greek and Roman aristocracy at meal, reclining on their sides, heads propped on their hands, casually consuming a heavy repast served by young girls, while entertained by buffoons, lithe dancers, and music of lyres. If you need a noun rather than an adjective, feel free to use recumbence or recumbency. If you are really daring, toss out the underlying verb, to recumb, occasionally.
In Play: Today's Good Word offers a way of saying "lying down" in the form of a rather attractive adjective: "I hear Harvey Wallbanger fell asleep on his recumbent bike and crashed into a tree." The implication of lying down, of course, is lying down on the job: "A lot of recumbent incumbents are facing tough challenges (from excumbents?) in US elections this year."
Word History: Today's word comes from Latin recumben(t)s, the present participle of Latin recumbere "to lie down", consisting of: re-, an intensifier prefix + cumbere "to lie or be lying (down)". Cumbere also underlies succumb, from sub "under" + cumbere. It originally meant "to lie under" in Latin, then came to mean to "to yield to". The root of cumbere is also visible in incumbent, a person holding an elected office. So, what is the semantic relationship between today's word and incumbent? Well, the original meaning of incumbent was "leaning against something, at rest". I'll let you connect the dots. (The contributor of today's Good Word, David Hegge, is an observant logophile whether recumbent or akimbo.)
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