[17] Precarious comes from Latin precārius (source also of English prayer), which meant ‘obtained by asking or praying’. It was originally used in English as a legal term, in which ‘obtained by asking’ had undergone a slight change in focus to ‘held through the favour of another’. This introduced the notion that the favour might be withdrawn, and that the possession was therefore uncertain, and so the adjective soon came to be used for ‘depending on chance or caprice’ and, in the 18th century, ‘risky’. Latin precārius was derived from prex ‘prayer’, a close relative of precārī ‘ask, entreat, pray’, from which English gets pray. => PRAY
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   Although now applied to something liable to fail or collapse, the word was originally a legal term denoting something that depended on another person's favor or goodwill. Hence its origin in Latin precarius, 'obtained by begging,' based on prex, genitive precis, 'entreaty' (English prayer).

The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins. 2013.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Precarious — Pre*ca ri*ous, a. [L. precarius obtained by begging or prayer, depending on request or on the will of another, fr. precari to pray, beg. See {Pray}.] 1. Depending on the will or pleasure of another; held by courtesy; liable to be changed or lost… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • precarious — pre·car·i·ous /pri kar ē əs/ adj: depending on the will or pleasure of another a temporary and precarious office see also precarious possession at possession Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster …   Law dictionary

  • precarious — [pri ker′ē əs] adj. [L precarius: see PRAYER1] 1. dependent upon the will or favor of another person 2. dependent upon circumstances; uncertain; insecure [a precarious living] 3. dependent upon chance; risky [a precarious foothold] 4 …   English World dictionary

  • precarious — (adj.) 1640s, a legal word, held through the favor of another, from L. precarius obtained by asking or praying, from prex (gen. precis) entreaty, prayer (see PRAY (Cf. pray)). Notion of dependent on the will of another led to sense risky,… …   Etymology dictionary

  • precarious — *dangerous, hazardous, perilous, risky Analogous words: *doubtful, dubious, questionable: distrustful, mistrustful (see corresponding verbs at DISTRUST): chance, chancy, haphazard, *random Contrasted words: *safe, secure: * …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • precarious — [adj] tricky, doubtful ambiguous, borderline, chancy, contingent, dangerous, delicate, dicey*, dubious, dynamite, equivocal, hairy*, hanging by a thread*, hazardous, iffy*, impugnable, indecisive, insecure, loaded, on thin ice*, open, out on a… …   New thesaurus

  • precarious — ► ADJECTIVE 1) not securely held or in position; likely to fall. 2) dependent on chance; uncertain. DERIVATIVES precariously adverb precariousness noun. ORIGIN Latin precarius obtained by entreaty , from prex prayer …   English terms dictionary

  • precarious — [[t]prɪke͟əriəs[/t]] 1) ADJ GRADED If your situation is precarious, you are not in complete control of events and might fail in what you are doing at any moment. Our financial situation had become precarious. ...the Government s precarious… …   English dictionary

  • precarious — /prəˈkɛəriəs / (say pruh kairreeuhs) adjective 1. dependent on circumstances beyond one s control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood. 2. dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will …   Australian English dictionary

  • precarious — /prakeriyas/ Liable to be returned or rendered up at the mere demand or request of another; hence, held or retained only on sufferance or by permission; and, by an extension of meaning, doubtful, uncertain, dangerous, very liable to break, fail,… …   Black's law dictionary

  • precarious — precariously, adv. precariousness, n. /pri kair ee euhs/, adj. 1. dependent on circumstances beyond one s control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood. 2. dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or… …   Universalium

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