Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for September 10, 2020 is:

encumber • in-KUM-ber  • verb

1 : weigh down, burden

2 : to impede or hamper the function or activity of : hinder

3 : to burden with a legal claim (such as a mortgage)


“Those who do handle radioactive material must first don protective suits that are inherently cumbersome and are further encumbered by the air hoses needed to allow the wearer to breathe.” — The Economist, 20 June 2019

“‘The water reservoir is absolutely needed in Vernon Hills,’ said David Brown, Vernon Hills’ public works director/village engineer. While supportive, the village thinks there are ‘some other viable locations in town,’ he added. So does the park district, which owns the land but is encumbered by an easement….” — Mick Zawislak, The Chicago Daily Herald, 1 Aug. 2020

Did you know?

In Old French, the noun combre meant a defensive obstacle formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. Later, in Middle French, combre referred to a barrier, similar to a dam or weir, constructed in the bed of a river to hold back fish or protect the banks. That notion of holding back is what informs our verb encumber. One can be physically encumbered (as by a heavy load or severe weather) or figuratively (as by bureaucratic restrictions). Combre also gives us the adjectives cumbersome and cumbrous, both meaning “awkward or difficult to handle.”

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