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pre·cip·i·tate (prĭ-sĭpĭ-tāt)
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v. pre·cip·i·tat·ed, pre·cip·i·tat·ing, pre·cip·i·tates
v.tr.
1. To cause to happen, especially suddenly or prematurely: an announcement that precipitated a political crisis.
2. To cause to fall down from a height; hurl downward: "The finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below" (Thornton Wilder).
3. To put suddenly into a certain state or condition: "He was like a man who had never known liberty and was all at once precipitated into it" (Taylor Caldwell).
4. Meteorology To cause (a form of water, as rain or snow) to fall from the air.
5. Chemistry To cause (a solid substance) to be separated from a solution.
v.intr.
1. Meteorology To fall from the air as a form of water, such as rain or snow.
2. Chemistry To be separated from a solution as a solid.
adj. (-tĭt)
1. Moving rapidly and heedlessly; speeding headlong.
2. Acting with or marked by excessive haste and lack of due deliberation. See Synonyms at impetuous.
3. Occurring suddenly or unexpectedly.
n. (-tāt, -tĭt)
1. Chemistry A solid or solid phase separated from a solution.
2. A product resulting from a process, event, or course of action.

[Latin praecipitāre, praecipitāt-, to throw headlong, from praeceps, praecipit-, headlong : prae-, pre- + caput, capit-, head; see kaput- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

pre·cipi·tate·ly (-tĭt-lē) adv.
pre·cipi·tate·ness n.
pre·cipi·tative adj.
pre·cipi·tator n.

Usage Note: The adjective precipitate and the adverb precipitately were once applied to physical steepness but are now used primarily of rash, headlong actions: Their precipitate entry into the foreign markets led to disaster. He withdrew precipitately from the race. Precipitous currently means "steep" in both literal and figurative senses: the precipitous rapids of the upper river; a precipitous drop in commodity prices. But precipitous and precipitously are also frequently used to mean "abrupt, hasty," which takes them into territory that would ordinarily belong to precipitate and precipitately: their precipitous decision to leave. Many people object to this usage out of a desire to keep precipitate and precipitous distinct, but the extension of meaning from "steep" to "abrupt" is perfectly natural. After all a precipitous increase in reports of measles is also an abrupt or sudden event. In fact, a majority of the Usage Panel now accepts this usage. In our 2004 survey, 65 percent accepted the sentence Pressure to marry may cause precipitous decision-making that is not grounded in the reality of who you are and what you want from life.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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