12 Words About Beginnings

incunabula

For some, New Year’s resolutions can represent the incunabula of sweeping life changes. This word means "the earliest stages or first traces of anything." Used in a different context, however, incunabula can refer to copies of books produced before 1501 from movable type.

genesis

The word genesis can be traced back to the Greek gignesthai meaning "to be born." When written with a capital G, it refers to the first book of the Bible, but it is often used in a non-Biblical sense to mean "an origin, creation, or beginning."

inchoate

The beginning stages of a project or idea are often a little messy or imperfect. This word addresses that early state of disarray with three definitions: "not yet completed or fully developed," "just begun or incipient," or "not organized; lacking order."

Inchoate comes from Latin incohāre meaning “to begin, start work on.” An inchoation is a beginning or origin.

inception

Coming from the Latin incipere meaning "begin, take in hand," the word inception refers to a beginning, start, or commencement. Fans of the 2010 film of the same name might be familiar with another sense of the word: in science fiction, inception means instilling an idea into someone's mind by entering their dreams.

recrudescence

Coming from a Latin term meaning "become raw again," recrudescence means "breaking out afresh or into renewed activity." As the Latin root suggests, this word was first used in medical contexts to describe a recurrence of symptoms after a period of remission, but it later took on a more rosy sense referring to the revival of something good.

exordium

Did you usher in the new year with a grand speech reflecting on the year prior and detailing your resolutions for the months to come? If so, we trust you had a pithy and effective exordium.

Used in this context, this word refers to the introductory part of an oration or treatise, but it can also be used to mean “the beginning of anything.”

commencement

Many of us associate the word commencement with an awards ceremony at the end of an academic year. This sense of commencement reflects the earlier sense of the word: "an act or instance of commencing; beginning."

The ceremony marks a new beginning for graduated students to embark on their lives as professionals in their fields of study.

ab ovo

This expression meaning "from the beginning" translates literally from Latin to "from the egg." In literary contexts, it refers to a narrative that begins at the earliest possible chronological point as opposed to a story that starts in the middle (in medias res).

This usage can be traced back to the Latin poet Horace, who used the expression to note that Homer began the tale of the Trojan War in the middle of the story rather than with the twin egg from which Helen was born.

nascent

To say something is nascent is to say that it is in its earliest stages of existence or development. This word comes from the Latin nasci meaning "to be born." As you may have guessed, the word natal meaning "of or pertaining to a person’s birth" shares this Latin ancestor.

inaugurate

To inaugurate something is to to make a formal beginning of, as in "The end of World War II inaugurated the era of nuclear power." It can also mean "to induct into public office or introduce into public use with a ceremony." Omens are at the heart of this term, as it comes from the Latin inaugurāre meaning "to consecrate by augury (a person chosen for priesthood or other office)."

alpha

The word alpha has many meanings. But before English speakers came to use it to describe the most dominant person (or animal) in a group, they were using it in reference to the first letter of the Greek alphabet, or in contrast with the word omega to mean "the first; beginning." 

rudiment

This term is most often used in the plural to talk about the early stages or foundational principles of something, as in the rudiments of grammar or the rudiments of a plan. If the term strikes you as uncouth, you may be picking up its "rude" roots. Rudiment, like the word rude, comes from Latin rudis meaning "unformed, rough." 

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