Printable Version
Pronunciation: prê--ri-ês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Shaky, unstable, wobbly, dangerously insecure, likely to topple or fall. 2. Uncertain, unpredictable, depending on conditions not under our control.

Notes: The spelling of this word is straightforward. Since the C in this word appears before a back vowel (A, O, or U), it is 'hard', pronounced like K. When C appears before a 'front' vowel (I or E), it is usually 'soft', pronounced like S. The adverb is formed normally, precariously, as is the noun, precariousness.

In Play: Use today's word when you see anything wobbly and likely to topple: "Linda Hand perched precariously on the top rung of the ladder as she tried to retrieve the cat from the tree." This characterization applies to abstract as well as concrete objects: "The argument that adding a 19th hole to the golf course will attract more members is a very precarious one."

Word History: How precarious can prayer be? Today's etymology tells us. Latin precarius "given as a favor, obtained by entreaty" is the source of today's Good Word. This adjective came from the verb precari "to entreat, ask, beg" which, in turn, is based on prex (prec-s) "prayer". The same root emerged in Sanskrit prasna- "question" and Russian prosit' "to request". German fragen "to ask" comes from the same source, as did Old English fricgan "to ask". The Old English word, however, fell victim to another Old English word, ascian, today's ask, on its way to Modern English. (I pray you all will join me in offering Stan Davis a solid word of gratitude for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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