Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Dangerously lacking in security or stability: a precarious posture; precarious footing on the ladder.
  • adj. Subject to chance or unknown conditions: "His kingdom was still precarious; the Danes far from subdued” ( Christopher Brooke).
  • adj. Based on uncertain, unwarranted, or unproved premises: a precarious solution to a difficult problem.
  • adj. Archaic Dependent on the will or favor of another.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. dangerously insecure or unstable; perilous
  • adj. depending on the intention of another

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Depending on the will or pleasure of another; held by courtesy; liable to be changed or lost at the pleasure of another.
  • adj. Held by a doubtful tenure; depending on unknown causes or events; exposed to constant risk; not to be depended on for certainty or stability; uncertain

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be lost or withdrawn at the will of another; hence, uncertain; insecure.
  • Specifically, in law, of uncertain tenure; revocable at the will of the owner or creator: as, a precarious right or loan.
  • Dependent only upon the will of the owner or originator; hence, arbitrary; unfounded.
  • Dependent upon chance; of doubtful issue; uncertain as to result.
  • Hence Dangerous; hazardous; exposed to positive peril, risk of misunderstanding, or other hazard.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. affording no ease or reassurance
  • adj. not secure; beset with difficulties
  • adj. fraught with danger

Etymologies

From Latin precārius, obtained by entreaty, uncertain, from precārī, to entreat; see pray.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin precārius ("begged for, obtained by entreaty"), from prex, precis ("prayer"). Compare French précaire and Spanish, Portuguese and Italian precario. (Wiktionary)

Examples

Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit! Read our announcement here.

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Haha!

    October 30, 2008

  • Eaiouzah!

    October 30, 2008

  • eaiou - we've been mollusqued.

    October 29, 2008

  • agreed, reesetee--also he's talking about the Bucks County of 1991, a good bit of time ago.

    October 29, 2008

  • Bilby, I certainly wasn't suggesting you were responsible for what's in the article. I just wanted to point out that there are vastly different viewpoints about this part of the country (including mine).

    C_b, I also think that living near a metropolitan area makes a big difference in how you might see the region in retrospect. I grew up in the same place as you, but then moved to the Philadelphia area.

    I do agree, however, that the lower end of this county has been horribly overdeveloped. That much is evident to anyone.

    October 29, 2008

  • I think he might mean the precarious labor class, as in the ever-declining blue-collar segment of the population--declining because manufacturing is declining in this country.

    And it has been for as long as I can remember, actually. Though I went to school, as an adolescent, in an economically depressed city that had suffered very much from the decline of manufacturing. So that might color my view a bit.

    My first instinct was to take issue with Mr. Eshelman, actually. It isn't racism. It is xenophobia, as he says, and it is a sticking-with-your-own-tribe thing. To some that might be considered a euphemism for racism, but to me (and I grew up in PA), it means sticking with your own tribe (Italian with Italian; Pole with Pole; etc.). And that's not the same thing. There simply are not a lot of African Americans or other people of color in most of Pennsylvania, and that's got a lot to do with it. So while I respect his right to have an opinion, especially as a fellow Pennsylvanian, I wish he'd be more careful with his words or more clear about what he means.

    That goes for "precarious labor" as well.

    However, I do see myself in his last sentence, and--all due respect to reesetee, who obviously has a different experience or viewpoint on this--that last sentence is why I don't live in PA anymore.

    October 29, 2008

  • I'm not responsible for what Mr Eshelman thinks, although I realise there are a few Pennsylvania Wordies who might have their own take. Actually I was a bit mystified by what he thought precarious meant in this context, let alone the rest.

    October 29, 2008

  • I live in Bucks County. Just so you know, this hardly describes most of the people I know here. :-) However, we are going Blue politically.

    October 29, 2008

  • "In 1991, at age 17, I fled Bucks County, an overwhelmingly white, working-class region in southeast Pennsylvania where I grew up. I left because the life of the working class was brutal and I wanted no part of it. I cringed at the racism and xenophobia that seemed to rise out of the anxieties of precarious labor. I desperately hoped there was some alternative to coming home each day looking as battered as did so many grown-ups I would catch staring blankly into TV screens or half-empty glasses of beer."
    - Robert Eshelman, 'Meeting Myself in Bucks County', 28 Oct 2008.

    October 29, 2008