Precipitate – Before head

Precipitate, it has its obvious meaning – to start something, but some of its forms overlap with rain… ‘precipitating’ for instance can mean to start something, or it can mean it’s raining. Where does it get off? Overlapping with another word so haphazardly? It’s a rarity, most words have either one meaning or more than one, they rarely overlap in only certain forms. You can’t use precipitate to refer to rain, you just can’t I’m sorry, and, kind of out of left field, it’s also a term for solid particles in a solution following separation.

So where to begin with this muddle? Are the words even connected?

‘Precipitate’ reached its current meaning in around 1650. It comes from the Latin word ‘praecipitatus’ which is the past participle of ‘praecipitare’ which meant ‘to dive into’. 

Precipitation has been with us since the 1400s, it joined our language from French, and before that, also originated in Latin, this time in the word ‘praecipitationem’ which meant ‘to fall’.

Both of the Latin terms are variants of the word ‘praeceps’ so are linked in early Latin, ‘Prae’ here means ‘before’, and ‘ceps’ meant ‘head’ – it’s also the same root as that for the word ‘precipice’.

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