• incumbent •
in-kêm-bênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Resting its weight on something else, leaning or resting on something, as a picture of Gayle incumbent on a rock. 2. Dependent, up to, as it is incumbent on me to get Bertram to work in the morning. 3. Responsible for the duties of an office, as the incumbent mayor of the city.
Notes: Today's adjective is used a lot in an election year like 2012. However, it is used mostly as a noun referring to incumbent politicians, simply called "incumbents". Incumbents are people who are currently in office and running for election against challengers. The noun for the quality of being incumbent is incumbency.
In Play: Today's Good Word can find room in the speech of all responsible parents: "It is incumbent upon you to keep your room neat and tidy and incumbent upon me to decide whether I buy tickets for the Justin Bieber concert." (You wouldn't call that blackmail, would you?) In fact, this word can find a place wherever responsibility is at stake: "It is incumbent upon the deacons to make all the major decisions concerning the church and mow the grass on Saturday."
Word History: Today's word comes from Latin incumben(t)s "lying down on", the present participle of incumbere "to lean or lie upon", made up of in- "in, on" + cumbere "to lie". The semantic drift of this word is easy to follow. If something is leaning on an object, it is dependent on that object for its support. Even in English we say things like, "It lies with me to get Bertie to work". This is another way of saying that I am responsible, and responsibilities are often said to rest on someone. Cumbere is a variant of cubare, which underlies cubiculum "bedroom", the source of English cubicle.
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