Word: cumbersome

Pronunciation: KƏM-bər-səm

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: large or heavy and therefore difficult to carry or use; unwieldy

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


This week’s vocabulary word is a good one to define some of the obstacles we face in life. Every now and then, you may find you need to move something large and heavy or face a situation that sets you back, and it’s expected that fictional characters must face the same trials. You could say that such obstacles are “cumbersome”: they may slow you down, but they don’t necessarily have to stop you from achieving success!

A “cumbersome” object is difficult to carry or use due to being too large and/or heavy. The word arose in late Middle English in the sense “difficult to get through” and stems from the verb “encumber”, meaning “restrict or burden (someone or something) in such a way that free action or movement is difficult”. This verb comes from the Old French verb encombrer “to block up”, which comprises the prefix en “in” and the verb combrer “to hinder”.

As noted above, while “cumbersome” primarily refers to concrete objects, it can also be used to describe abstract concepts, as it has the sub-definition “slow or complicated and therefore inefficient”. Based on the contexts in which I’ve read it, I believe this word applies best to obstacles that hinder but don’t completely halt progress. If the conflicts in your stories often slow your characters down, “cumbersome” may be a good word to define the obstacles in their way! Good luck!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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