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The Wikipedia entry for Gritty, cited in my post "Liberté, Égalité, Gritté", used the modifier "outcoming" [emphasis added]:

When Philadelphia played an outsized role in determining the 2020 presidential election, social media users depicted Gritty, as the city personified, defeating outcoming incumbent Donald Trump.

Philip Anderson quickly objected in the comments:

But “outcoming” (as an adjective) in the Wikipedia quote? Incoming or outgoing, surely?

Some discussion ensued, with opinions on several sides of the question.

The usage did seem odd to me at first — though on reflection it makes sense, since "outgoing" would imply a point of view inside whatever region the going-thing is leaving, while "outcoming" suggests that we're outside that region. And surely we (and the wikipedia writer) are outside the American presidency?

But logic aside, is "outcoming" even a word?

The OED and MW both have entries for all four preposition+participle combinations: incoming, ingoing, outcoming, outgoing. You won't be surprised to learn that the frequencies are very different, with Philip's favorites incoming and outgoing much more common than the other two. COCA counts:

incoming 7541
ingoing 12
outcoming 4
outgoing 3812

But some examples of the two infrequent modifiers seem unproblematic, like this from Physics Today in 1994:

Not only did Brockhouse design a valuable instrument, but he made the mental leap into reciprocal space and suggested operating the instrument to collect only data points corresponding to a fixed value of Q, the difference in wavevector (k i – k f) between the ingoing and outcoming neutrons.

That choice appropriately situates the observer's point of view outside the region that the neutrons are going into and coming out of (rather than coming into and going out of…).

So frequency of usage is on Philip's side, but logic and non-quantitative lexicography are on the side of the Wikipedia writer.





  1. Linda Seebach said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 12:36 pm

    I can see why "outcoming" is necessary in the phrase "ingoing and ___" but it's usual to use "incoming" for newly elected, but not yet seated, politicians. The point of view is the office, not the writer or the reader.

  2. John Shuttt said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 12:38 pm

    If a one-off linguistic improvisation is clear enough (to a fluent audience, presumably), it may not matter whether there is any precedent for it. For that to work, though, the meaning of the improvisation has to come through clearly, which depends partly on context. In that Wikipedia sentence, the meaning doesn't come through to me clearly enough to compensate for the rarity of the word.

  3. David Morris said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 3:01 pm

    Maybe calling him the 'outgoing incumbent' might be mistaken as a description of his personality!

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 4:27 pm

    … which makes me wonder whether an incoming incumbent should displace the outgoing outgobent.

  5. Adrian Bailey said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 4:32 pm

    I think the best answer to the question "Is outcoming a word?" is "Hardly."

  6. SusanC said,

    November 14, 2020 @ 4:59 pm

    The Wikipedia page on Kruskal-Szekeres coordinates (used in modelling black holes) has: “These lightcone coordinates have the useful feature that outgoing null geodesics are given by U = constant, while ingoing null geodesics are given by V = constant.”

    Ingoing would thus seem to be an accepted use in mathematics. For describing a President, on the other hand, I would say outgoing, and outcoming just seems strange.

    P.S. given that the subject matter of the example is a black hole, the observers position is expected to be outside the object…

  7. Maurice Waite said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 7:57 am

    The point of view that ML suggests is implied by 'outcoming'—that we are outside wherever it is that the incumbent is leaving—is actually appropriate with Trump because he seems reluctant to leave the White House, remote from us who are waiting outside for him to emerge.

  8. Haamu said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 1:06 pm

    To say that logic is on the side of the Wikipedia writer is debatable. It assumes a frame of reference that is not the only one that might make sense.

    Here's my intuition, for instance: Since the U.S. Presidency is highly relevant to my life, someone assuming the office is joining me in a relationship, and someone departing is leaving that sphere of relevance. Therefore, from my personal perspective, "incoming" and "outgoing" seem more logical and apt.

    It's all in the mental models you adopt.

  9. Andrew Usher said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 1:51 pm

    It doesn't need to get down to logic. The fact is, that at least for persons the only standard terms are 'incoming' and 'outgoing', and that the writer intended nothing different from what 'outgoing' normally means; thus, it is simply an error. Note that it's followed by another one: after Trump has lost, he's no longer the incumbent, right? Certainly 'outgoing incumbent' seems silly.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  10. Haamu said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 2:22 pm

    Trump is the incumbent until January 20. Therefore, "outgoing incumbent" seems like a good description of his current status.

  11. John Shutt said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 3:22 pm

    The word "outcoming" is more difficult than "ingoing", because there is no word "ingo" but there is a noun "outcome"; therefore, "ingoing and outcoming" is much more immediately understandable than "outcoming" alone. If I were editing that Wikipedia sentence I'd simply delete the word "outcoming" since no meaning is lost thereby.

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 4:06 pm

    The coming and going of which we're speaking is of the same general sense in which Napoleon came to power in 1799 and went into exile in 1814. "Outcoming" simply has it backwards.

  13. bks said,

    November 15, 2020 @ 4:29 pm

    "Coming-out party" is in widespread use –with some modern glosses. Professor Google finds plenty of occurences of "outcoming party."

  14. Bathrobe said,

    November 16, 2020 @ 1:01 am

    Agree with Linda Seebach. I think that's how most people would see it.

  15. Terry K. said,

    November 17, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

    Out of context "outcoming" sounds to be like business jargon, a verbing of "outcome", (in -ing form or as a gerund).

  16. Philip Anderson said,

    November 22, 2020 @ 5:24 pm

    Usually an incoming something is actually or metaphorically coming in, and similarly with the other in-/out- -coming/-going adjectives. But those verbs aren’t used with regard to entering or leaving office – incoming and outgoing are fixed adjectives, not participles.

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    November 23, 2020 @ 7:45 pm

    What do you mean? Certainly we can say, though it's less common, that a person comes in to, or goes out of, an office – but the reverse combinations 'comes out' or 'goes in' are not used for that purpose, and therefore neither should be 'outcoming'.

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