Printable Version
Pronunciation: pri-kær-ê-ti Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: A precarious existence, lacking in stability, job security, material or psychological welfare.

Notes: I am rescuing today's word from the worlds of sociology and economics. Precarity is precariousness with a different noun suffix. People who live in such a circumstance are referred to collectively as the precariat. This word is perhaps a blend of precarious and proletariat.

In Play: Precarity means vulnerability at the hands of those who have escaped it: "Ferdie built his business by picking up workers living in precarity, standing in the parking lot of the mall daily, and desperate for jobs." Once we bring this word out of the realm of science, it becomes susceptible to metaphorical usage: "The financial precarity of the Good Word series has become critical."

Word History: Today's Good Word is based on Latin precarius "obtained by asking or praying", from prex (plural preces) "entreaty, prayer", inherited from the PIE root prek-/prok- "to ask, entreat". The notion of "dependent on the will of another" led to the sense of "risky, dangerous, uncertain" across the ages. Prex, preces gave rise to precari "to pray", which was redesigned by French as preier "to pray", at which point English borrowed it as pray. (We owe a debt of gratitude today to Chris Stewart, our long-time South African friend, for rooting out today's word from the worlds of sociology or economics.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!