• precept •
pree-sept • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A principle prescribing a certain course of action within a code of conduct.
Notes: A precept is an instructive concept, an idea prescribing a certain behavior. The adjective accompanying this word is preceptive and the adverb, preceptively. You may prefer preceptial and preceptially for the same purposes. Preceptor "instructor, tutor" is used mostly in religious contexts or in discussions of secret societies like the Knights Templars. A preceptory is either an organization employing preceptors or a building housing its members.
In Play: Precepts usually inhabit belief systems: "Gladys Friday fails to grasp the fundamental precept of capitalism: profitability." It applies to all sorts of belief systems: "The central precept of Christianity, humility, is followed religiously by the Amish and Mennonites."
Word History: Today's Good Word was wrenched from Old French precept (Modern French précepte), the descendant of Latin praeceptum "piece of advice, principle, rule". It is the neuter past participle of praecipere "to advise, teach", used as a noun. Praecipere was built up from prae- "pre-, beforehand" + capere "to take, accept": a rule of conduct is something that you take or accept before you act. The root of capere was inherited from Proto-Indo-European kap- "to grasp, take", which also became the Latin words behind capture, capable, and most of the words in -cept: accept, intercept, including receipt. The same PIE root went through the Germanic languages and turned up in English as have, haft "handle of a tool", and hawk.
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