Printable Version
Pronunciation: kêm-bêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To burden or make difficult, to hamper, hinder. 2. To block, to impede, to hold back.

Notes: English speakers usually add the meaningless prefix en- to this word, making it encumber. I described cumber instead because I thought most Good Word readers would be curious as to where cumbersome comes from. It is unrelated to Cumberland, a part of Cumbria, whence its name, famous for its Lake District.

In Play: We can use this word as we would encumber: "Darling, I couldn't stop by the market on the way home from soccer practice, because I was cumbered by so many kids." We may be cumbered by emotions, too: "Malcolm plodded on, cumbered as he was by many cares."

Word History: Today's word comes to us from Old French combrer "to block up, hinder, thwart", based on combre "hindrance". Combrer might have been inherited by French from a presumable Late Latin verb, combrare, built out of combrus "barricade, obstacle". This word may be a reduction of classical Latin cumulus "heap, pile", derived from Proto-Indo-European ku-m-olo-, a suffixed shortened form of root keue- "to swell". Other words derived from this PIE word are Sanskrit svayati "swells up, becomes strong", Greek kyein "to swell", Lithuanian šaunas "firm, solid, fit, capable". According to the American Heritage Dictionary the original root may have been borrowed from Celtic comboros, but AHD takes it no further than that; it doesn't even give a meaning for the Celtic word.

Dr. Goodword,

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