Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
February 11th, 2016
Episode 446 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 11, 2016 is: incumbent \in-KUM-bunt\ noun 1 : the holder of an office or ecclesiastical benefice 2 : one that occupies a particular position or place Examples: The two-term incumbent has already raised almost a million dollars for the upcoming congressional race. "In recent weeks, the candidates hoping to succeed Obama have backed into an honest debate about what American power can and can't do. On Tuesday, theincumbenthimself joined in, explicitly defending his own restrained approach." — Dante Ramos, The Boston Globe, 14 Jan. 2016 Did you know? When incumbent was first used in English in the 15th century, it referred to someone who occupied a benefice—a paid position in a church. This was often a lifetime appointment; the person could only be forced to leave the office in the case of certain specific legal conflicts. In the mid-17th century, incumbent came to refer to anyone holding any office, including elected positions. These days, in the American political system, incumbent generally refers to someone who is the current holder of a position during an election to fill that position. Incumbent came to English through Anglo-French and derives from the Latin incumbere, meaning "to lie down on."