wotd: inchoate

October 28, 2010

Word of the Day for Wednesday, October 27, 2010 (Dictionary.com)

inchoate \in-KOH-it\, adjective:

1. In an initial or early stage; just begun.
2. Imperfectly formed or formulated.

Mildred Spock believed that, at about the age of three, her children’s inchoate wills were to be shaped like vines sprouting up a beanpole.
— Thomas Maier, Dr. Spock: An American Life

She also had a vision, not yet articulated, an inchoate sense of some special calling that awaited her.
— Linda Lear, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature

You take on a project because of the feeling, perhaps inchoate, that it may in some way contribute to your deeper understanding of the larger-scale research program you have chosen as your life’s work.
— Christopher Scholz, Fieldwork: A Geologist’s Memoir of the Kalahari

Inchoate comes from the past participle of Latin inchoare, alteration of incohare, “to begin.”

From the Online Etymology Dictionary–


1530s, from L. inchoatus, pp. of inchoare, alteration of incohare “to begin,” originally “to hitch up,” from in- “on” + cohum “strap fastened to the oxen’s yoke.”


“finished, complete,” mistaken back formation from inchoate (q.v.) as though that word contained in- “not.” First attested 1878 in letter from O.W. Holmes lamenting barbarisms in legal case writing (he said he found choate in a California report).

Ox Cart Man

By Donald Hall


In October of the year,

he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,

counting the seed, counting

the cellar’s portion out,

and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.


He packs wool sheared in April, honey

in combs, linen, leather

tanned from deerhide,

and vinegar in a barrel

hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.


He walks by his ox’s head, ten days

to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,

and the bag that carried potatoes,

flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose

feathers, yarn.


When the cart is empty he sells the cart.

When the cart is sold he sells the ox,

harness and yoke, and walks

home, his pockets heavy

with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,


and at home by fire’s light in November cold

stitches new harness

for next year’s ox in the barn,

and carves the yoke, and saws planks

building the cart again.


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