When the verb precipate was first in the English language in 1528, it meant "to throw someone into a condition", and it comes from the past participle of Latin praecipitare, "to throw headfirst". This sense of something suddenly happening or changing state turned into the definition of "to deposit in a solution" in the 1620s and eventually was extended to a meteorological context around the mid-nineteenth century, with the noun first showing up in the 1560s and the adjective meaning "hasty" from around 1600. Praecipitare is composed of the prefix prae-, meaning "before" (from Proto-Indo-European per, also "before") and the root caput, meaning "head" (from Proto-Indo-European kaput, also "head"). Together, you can see how the word was used for the action of diving headfirst into something.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.