using the word 'incumbent'

MaximuS.111

Senior Member
russian
Hey! I'm wondering if I can you the word 'incumbent' instead of 'required' in the following sentences:
It is almost incumbent that you have a good breakfast before taking the test.
Thanks!
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    For what it's worth, I usually use "incumbent upon [someone or something -- you, me, him, her, the State, etc.] to do something."

    I would not use "incumbent" in your sentence as a substitute for "required." And any "incumbent upon you" phrasings sound very awkward, so I couldn't recommend that construction either.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, 'incumbent' has too much of a moral sense to be appropriate here. It is incumbent on you to get to work on time, but not to have a good breakfast (unless you're an Olympic athlete and it's part of your training, I suppose).
     

    AliBadass

    Senior Member
    persian
    How about in this context from the series Prison Break Season1, Episode1 while the judge is imposing a sentence on the accused?

    The judge: Given your lack of prior criminal conduct, I am inclined toward probation. However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me. For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.

    How would you rephrase that? Does the judge simply mean ''I think it's necessary for you to go to prison''?
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think "mandatory" is a word that fits better here:

    It is almost incumbent mandatory that you have a good breakfast before taking the test.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    How about in this context from the series Prison Break Season1, Episode1 while the judge is imposing a sentence on the accused?

    The judge: Given your lack of prior criminal conduct, I am inclined toward probation. However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me. For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.

    How would you rephrase that? Does the judge simply mean ''I think it's necessary for you to go to prison''?
    That sounds very odd to me. we really don't use it without on or upon. It is about obligation, so in this sentence we are missing the bit that tells us who is obliged.

    "I find it incumbent on me to send you to prison." would work.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Or
    It is incumbent on you to go to prison.
     
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    AliBadass

    Senior Member
    persian
    Thank you. But why odd? I mean that's exactly what she(the judge) says. She's black if you got to know. Could it be slang or something that black people use?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me. For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.
    Each of these sentences on its own is enough to demolish all my confidence in the capacity of the scriptwriter and make me switch channels immediately to prevent terminal damage to my linguistic sensibilities.
     

    AliBadass

    Senior Member
    persian
    Each of these sentences on its own is enough to demolish all my confidence in the capacity of the scriptwriter and make me switch channels immediately to prevent terminal damage to my linguistic sensibilities.
    Sorry, I didn't get you at all. who are you talking to? What's your point?
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I think his point is akin to mine. The language use is odd. OK, it is the script, but that does not make it good English!

    I've told you what's wrong with the incumbent bit, it needs an 'on' or 'upon' to make it work in a standard way. For us Brits at least. Maybe this is another example of Americans crafting their own version of the language?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Thank you. But why odd? I mean that's exactly what she(the judge) says. She's black if you got to know. Could it be slang or something that black people use?
    :D All judges are well-educated - I'm sure it is the same in Iran - you do not find judges, especially when passing sentence, speaking slang regardless of their racial origins or background.

    I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield. = I find it a part of my duty that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    There is a lot of bad English in TV and movie scripts. Most of it is in dialog. And most dialog (in real life) contains a lot of bad English. It is only in scripts that we see good English in dialogs, and then only when character does not require bad English. It is much easier to write good English than it is to write dialog that sounds authentic.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    There is a lot of bad English in TV and movie scripts. Most of it is in dialog. And most dialog (in real life) contains a lot of bad English. It is only in scripts that we see good English in dialogs, and then only when character does not require bad English. It is much easier to write good English than it is to write dialog that sounds authentic.
    That is very true. A dialogue in 100% 'good' written English would be unrealistic, but you would expect a judge to be reaching for the standard in a courtroom, in life and in drama.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    I agree with PaulQ about the way judges use language. And I don't find anything wrong with either sentience in this script. I agree that the use of incumbent here is unusual. I would change "we really don't use it without on or upon" to "we typically don't."

    PaulQ notes that "judges are well-educated." In my view, that explains the wording here. I'd say only a well-educated person would be at all likely to employ incumbent in this way.
    Therefore, I find it incumbent that we, as college/university professors, examine our present culture — national and global — to ascertain current conditions and what positive roles each citizen may be able to play on the larger stage of world affairs. — A Philosophical View of the General Education Core
    I can't say if BrE speakers would agree.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I thought this was a script, not a real judge?
    So the level of expertise in question is actually the writer's, not a judge's. Their level of education is debatable.

    In any case, the OED confirms that for this meaning of incumbent it is consructed (or construed) as I originally said
    ( the abbreviation const stands for constructed or construed)

    3.
    Thesaurus »
    a. Resting or falling upon a person as a duty or obligation. Const. on, upon, (also †to)
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Sorry, I didn't get you at all. who are you talking to? What's your point?
    My meaning was that the writer is misusing the language, in particular the vocabulary, so badly that not only is it not a good guide for a learner, but it is even liable to lead a native speaker into wrong usage.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    the level of expertise in question is actually the writer's, not a judge's
    If the writer is being effective, I figure the language will be that of a judge.

    >>the OED confirms

    I'm confident that this is a proper use of "incumbent," although it may be considered archaic by some (like a lot of old judges):
    "It is incumbent that speculation on the state's fiscal woes be put to rest with official release of the numbers by the budget division,'' Mr. Regan said. ''The legislature and the taxpayers must be made aware of these figures." — Edward V. Regan (a state comptroller), quoted in "Regan Seeks Deficit Figures," NYT, Nov 8, 1988
    "It is incumbent that Saddam be brought to justice for the crimes against his people and against the Iranians and against the Kuwaitis." — Sermid D. Al-Sarraf (an attorney), quoted in "Threats and Responses: Iraqi-Americans; As War Starts, Refugees Feel a Mixture of Dread and Relief," NYT, Mar 20, 2003
    It is incumbent that medical researchers be made aware of their ethical obligations, including the obligation to abide by government regulations and to “blow the whistle” on unethical research. — The Ethical Considerations of Medical Experimentation on Human Subjects
    the writer is misusing the language, in particular the vocabulary
    Is there something that particularly troubles you?
    Given your lack of prior criminal conduct, I am inclined toward probation. However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me. For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.
    "[Y]our "lack" of prior criminal conduct … " seems a bit awkward to me, but I figure it's LawyerSpeak. I suppose the writer/judge could have used "necessary" instead of incumbent, but then we wouldn't have this to argue about.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Finding a few examples of the same mistake does not mean it is not deviant.
    I could fill the thread with examples of incumbent on.

    Your findings are not archaic, they are obviously the new thing. When enough apparently educated people make the same mistake the mistake becomes the new 'standard'. That is exactly how language changes and there's always argument as the changes occur.

    Dost thou not agree?
    Imagine the furore when the ignorant masses ditched the distinction between thou and you and lost those lovely verb endings!
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Is there something that particularly troubles you?
    Nothing at all; I would not treat the English language like that, though.
    The examples given show the word 'incumbent' being used as if it meant 'obligatory' or 'requisite'.
    However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me.
    Does this inspire confidence in the writer? Is it a realistic representation of a judge in court?

    The judge, deploying all her legal knowledge, decades of court experience and profound insight into human nature, comes up with the penetrating conclusion that firing a gun during a robbery does convey a suggestion - a slight hint - of a bad attitude.
     
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    gramman

    Senior Member
    as if it meant 'obligatory' or 'requisite
    Yes, I think "obligatory" is a good choice as a synonym in this context. At least I think it's better than "necessary" or "requisite" because it contains an element of "propriety."

    It is incumbent that … Mr. Scofield serve time in prison. Not just spend some time in jail as a defendant charged with a serious crime. But step through that door, into a prison, as an inmate, a convict with a number and a cell and a life inside prison.

    >>Does this inspire confidence in the writer? Is it a realistic representation of a judge in court?

    I'd say yes. In my experience, this is how judges talk during sentencing. They're typically very serious and formal. They're taking away someone's freedom. And in this case, someone who has until recently stayed out of trouble with the law, having a "lack of prior criminal conduct."

    >>the penetrating conclusion that firing a gun during a robbery does convey a suggestion - a slight hint - of a bad attitude.

    Again, I see this as LawyerSpeak. Rather than overstate yer case, and thereby make it less acceptable to others, take a minimalist approach.
    "We can't read yer mind, but the fact, as has been established, that you fired that gun under those particular conditions is reason enough to associate your actions with a malicious attitude. Therefore, although I'm inclined to place you on probation [clean record and some set of circumstances that makes this person's role in a robbery — a serious crime, a capital offense, a felony — something that could get him probation if he hadn't pulled the trigger], I'm instead gonna really give it to ya. Yer goin' t' prison!
    A prison sentence in this case is held to be "just," "deserved," "fittin'."

    Finding a few examples of the same mistake does not mean it is not deviant. I could fill the thread with examples of incumbent on
    I wasn't being clear. I'm not questioning the idea that this is an unusual use of incumbent. And I didn't mean to show that I could collect "a few examples" of this usage. I was attempting to demonstrate that this phrase ("incumbent that") is employed regularly, if infrequently, by respected writers/publications.

    I found this definition:
    incumbent

    (n.) That which is morally incumbent, or is imposed, as a rule, a duty, obligation, or responsibility. — Incumbency Meaning and Definition
    Here's a search return for just "incumbent that," with some terms filtered to narrow the focus.

    >>Your findings are not archaic, they are obviously the new thing

    I'm not at all sure how to use the Google Ngram Viewer, but this chart suggests to me that this may be one of those terms that has occasional spikes of popularity.

    I'm wondering if there's a connection between the three peaks in that chart and the underlying social conditions at the time. The years from 1870 to 1890 were the heart of the Third Great Awakening. In 1880, the Salvation Army expanded its operations from Great Britain to include Australia, Ireland, and the United States. Reformist movements are also associated with the period following the Great War and with the mid-1960s. I'm suggesting that when people are in a frame of mind where concepts like justice and obligation are being emphasized, perhaps they're more likely to think, speak, and write about how "it is incumbent that" something be done.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    In looking at another dictionary definition:
    be incumbent on/upon someone to do something (formal)
    to be someone's duty or responsibility to do something — Macmillan Dictionary
    I can see more clearly why some may feel that sources are indicating that "on" or "upon" is required. I figure this is one of those "usually" things even though that's not stated here.

    Ah, Collins offers:
    (formal) often postpositive and foll by on or upon and an infinitive: morally binding or necessary; obligatory
    Of course it may be that only the postpositive part is "often."
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me. For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.
    Perhaps I could make clear why I regard those two sentences as examples of misuse of vocabulary.

    (1) However, the fact that you discharged a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime suggests malice to me.

    This sentence shows ignorance of the law as well as misuse of language. I am not a lawyer, let alone an American one, but I think it is safe to say that in any common-law jurisdiction the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime is itself a very serious crime.
    For example, consider this page from the Statutes of Nebraska:
    28-1205. Use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony; possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony; penalty; separate and distinct offense; proof of possession.
    It shows that the initial crime, the possession of a deadly weapon during that crime and the use of the deadly weapon in that crime amount to three distinct serious felonies, subject to cumulative punishment: that is, consecutive sentences.

    To call such a serious felony as use of a deadly weapon during a crime nothing more than a 'suggestion of malice' is a complete and utter misuse of terms. In the supposed scenario, the prisoner would already have been convicted of it as a distinct offence and the judge would be passing sentence for at least two serious felonies, not one.


    (2) For that reason, I find it incumbent that you see the inside of a prison cell, Mr. Scofield.

    This sentence is not a suitable context for 'incumbent'. The OED identifies sixteen meanings of 'incumbent'. The only one relevant here is:
    3 (a) resting or falling upon a person as a duty or obligation. Const. on, upon.

    'Const. on, upon' means that the word is followed by 'on' or'upon', in other words, that the action in question is 'resting upon' the person concerned as a duty. The examples given include:

    1713 G. Berkeley Three Dialogues Hylas & Philonous iii. 144 It wou'd still be incumbent on you to shew, those Words were not taken in the vulgar Acceptation.
    1851 W. E. Gladstone State Prosecutions Neapolitan Govt. 1, I have come home with a deep sense of the duty incumbent upon me.
    1865 Reader 14 Jan. 39/1 Our author thinks that it is the incumbent duty of England to promote emigration to such a country.

    It is not true to say that 'incumbent' can only be used with 'upon + person', that is, in phrases such as 'incumbent upon you [to do something], but the OED gives no authority or example for using it as a synonym for 'obligatory' or 'required' in such a context as that of post 5. It would make sense for the judge to say 'it is obligatory that you go to prison' or 'it is incumbent upon me to send you to prison' but not 'it is incumbent that you see the inside of a prison'.

    The reason for this becomes clear if we consider another erroneous expression: 'it is incumbent upon me that you go to prison'.
    The clause 'that you go to prison' is expressing a result, not an action by the judge. However, when we use the phrase 'incumbent [upon someone]' to express a duty, we mean that that someone is the person who must perform the action.

    When a judge tells a prisoner that he must go to jail, this does not mean that the prisoner has a duty to go there. The judge is not advising the prisoner what he, the prisoner, should do. He is simply stating what has to happen. The duty of action (the sending to jail) lies upon (is incumbent upon) the judge. It is the result of the action (the going to jail) that falls upon the prisoner.

    Thus expressions such as 'it is incumbent that you go to jail' or 'it is incumbent for you to go to jail' are wrong semantically because they imply that it is the prisoner's duty to go to jail. They are wrong grammatically because they are using 'incumbent' in an inappropriate context. Treating it as equivalent to 'obligatory' in expressions of that kind is a context error.
     
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    gramman

    Senior Member
    In any common-law jurisdiction the use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime is itself a very serious crime.
    In the gun-happy US, with its crowded prisons and tight budgets, the punishment for this crime seems to depend upon the jurisdiction, the specific circumstances of the incident and, importantly here, the prior record of the defendant.
    There are robberies, and there are robberies. Although it is a violent felony (strike offense), probation is still an option for the judge, depending on the circumstances of the case. (California attorney)

    You could get probation, 6 months, a year, or a long prison term. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of the case and who your lawyer is. If you use a weapon it is much more serious. If it is a loaded gun you are likely going to prison. (New York attorney) — How much time can you get for a first offence robbery charge and can you avoid jail time with no money for a lawyer?
    There is no mention of a gun being fired in those examples, but remember that it's that very element — the discharge of the weapon — that causes this judge to impose a prison sentence. I suppose we can assume that there was no evidence of any intent to actually shoot someone.

    >>the prisoner would already have been convicted of it as a distinct offence

    I don't follow you there. Why is it necessary that there be separate charges? Couldn't there be just one, i.e., aggravated (armed) robbery?

    >>This sentence is not a suitable context for 'incumbent; … the OED gives no authority or example; … Treating it as equivalent to 'obligatory' in expressions of that kind is a context error.

    I'm reluctant to say that the OED has simply ignored an accepted usage. But why is its use in this manner so (relatively) widespread, and by people who should know better if it's improper?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Whereas it is usually incumbent on/upon, and there are many more examples of this construction. I do not think it is possible to count the example as wrong.

    I give you these:
    1791 C. Hamilton tr. Hedàya I. xii. 359 The Edit is made incumbent in a case of divorce for the purpose of ascertaining whether the woman be pregnant.
    1668 Earl of Clarendon Vindic. in Tracts (1727) 39 Everybody remembers the multiplicity of business the king was incumbent to at that time. (OED)

    A Philosophical View of the General Education Core By Dr Anthony J. Palmer, Boston University "Therefore, I find it incumbent that we, as college/university professors, examine our present culture-national and global-to ascertain current conditions and what positive roles each citizen may be able to play on the larger stage of world affairs." http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/philosophy_of_music_education_review/summary/v012/12.2palmer.html

    The Lustre of Our Country, By JOHN T. NOONAN, JR. "I find it incumbent to give some account of my own religion as it was exercised from that date forward. I will begin with a bit of family history." https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/n/noonan-lustre.html

    Drasha Parshas Acharei Mos - Kedoshim "Years later, when Rav Yaakov was informed that the doctor had passed away, he felt it incumbent to attend his funeral." http://www.torah.org/learning/drasha/5762/achareimos.html?print=1
     

    Dexta

    Senior Member
    English (British and Australian)
    I agree with PaulQ, the example is not wrong. While the OED may not explicitly give English learners or speakers its express "permission" or "authority" to use adjectives without their usual prepositional collocations such usage occurs naturally and often in everyday usage.

    The judge might also find Mr Scofield guilty, the prosecution might find the judge dedicated and commited, and we would expect to find the accused frightened and worried, all without the respective 'of', 'to', 'to', 'of' and 'about' collocations.

    Additionally, the astonishing accusation that the language we hear in the final screen product is indeed just cause to discredit a writer on the grounds that it may incite sociolinguistic chaos and revolution is misplaced and ignorant. The language in the script undergoes many permutations from page to screen and any number of individuals may be responsible for what we finally hear. It may simply be the way the actor in question said the lines in a particular take and the editor used that take because it was the fastest and clearest delivery of the lines (minus one preposition); it may be that the director asked for the lines to be said that way; it may have been the dialogue editor who removed a few prepositions as he or she was told to cut thirty seconds from the scene. There is no basis for determining that any resulting sociolinguistic crisis is solely the fault of a writer. If you knew any writers then you would regularly be reminded of their frustration at having to endure constant changes to their words and what they write rarely being what we finally hear.

    This hurricane in a teacup is no way attributable to any writer or writing and in my opinion is not incorrect in the first place. The judge is saying that incarceration is incumbent without naming and specifying any singular individual or entity. Perhaps with good and sound reason. Maybe in her mind it is not incumbent on an individual, perhaps the responsibility is that of society, or the legal system or a broader concept of justice and morality or perhaps an abstract complex concept of all of these.

    All the semantic acrobatics and pretzel twists of logic and quoting of statutes completely overlook the simple fact that the incumbency remains unreferred so it cannot be argued that "The duty of action (the sending to jail) lies upon (is incumbent upon) the judge". It may be the case that the writer, actor, director, editor, producer or dialogue editor wrote, crafted or manipulated the lines to intentionally preserve such ambiguity or perhaps to seed a little doubt or uncertainty about the character of the judge who will later turn out to be part of a much larger conspiracy working against our hero. It is blatant cultural elitism to emphatically conclude that the absence of a preposition is clear evidence of an impoverished intellect and thwarted language ability on the part of American authors. I wonder if the same sentences had ocurred in Downton Abbey or as part of reviewed literature in the TLS if it would have spawned such bombastic hysteria and panic.

    As we are forever emphasisng to learners here: context is essential and very important... without it we can't safely dismiss, judge, deride and criticise the forms and sources of cultural production and expression we view with contempt.
     
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