Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
July 1st, 2015
Episode 243 of 720 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 01, 2015 is: precarious \prih-KAIR-ee-us\ adjective 1 : dependent on uncertain premises : dubious 2 a : dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments b : dangerously lacking in security or steadiness Examples: The books were stacked high in a precarious tower that was liable to topple at any moment. "[Margaret] Atwood, whose futuristic fictions include 'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'Oryx and Crake' and 'MaddAddam,' knows that the entire premise of trees growing to be harvested for paper for print books many decades hence is a bit precarious. 'I am sending a manuscript into time,' she wrote in a prepared statement. 'Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it?'" Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2015 Did you know? "This little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends on the will of others." Joseph Addison, in a 1711 issue of Spectator magazine, couldn't have described the oldest sense of precarious more preciselythe original meaning of the word was "depending on the will or pleasure of another." Prayers and entreaties directed at that "other" might or might not help, but what precariousness really hangs on, in the end, is prex, the Latin word for prayer. From prex came the Latin word precarius, meaning "obtained by entreaty," from whence came our own adjective precarious. Anglo-French priere, also from precarius, gave us prayer.