• precipitation •
pree-sip-ê-tay-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)
Meaning: 1. Abrupt, headlong acceleration; overly-eager, careless hastening. 2. Falling or casting down from a height, especially water falling to earth in any form: rain, snow, sleet, or hail.
Notes: This Good Word is the action noun from the verb precipitate, which may be used as an adjective, as 'a precipitate action', or, in chemistry, as a noun, referring to a solid substance separated from a liquid. The verb also provides for an adjective precipitant "hasty, rash", which has its own noun, precipitancy.
In Play: This word is used most often in reference to water in any form falling from the sky: "You are always so negative; I find your precipitation on all my parades very annoying." However, the underlying verb allows for the first meaning above: "Fred drank so much, he became the precipitation of his own demise." Rain is not the only form of precipitation: "The Romans' favorite form of punishment for perjury was precipitation from a high cliff." (My attitude toward the suitability of this form of punishment for perjury has significantly softened in recent years.)
Word History: Precipitation was taken unmolested from 15th century French precipitation, which inherited it from Latin praecipitatio(n) "falling headlong, haste". This word was the action noun of praecipitare "fall, be hasty". Praecipitare was created from prae "before, forth" + the combining form of caput "head". Latin converted PIE peri- "before" to prae. English received the same PIE word as fore (before, afore), Russian as pri "at", and Greek parai "at". Latin changed PIE kaput- "head" very little; however, Old English remodeled it into heafod which ended up as head. By the time it reached Modern German, it was Haupt. Old French transformed the Latin word into chief, which Middle English promptly borrowed, and Modern French reduced to chef, which the ever-hungry English vocabulary, again, straightway gobbled up. (Lest we precipitate any angst anywhere, let's now offer thanks to Alfie Jordan for seeing the value in today's Good Word and sharing it with us.)
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