Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Precocious

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is precocious. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Precocious means “having or showing mature qualities at an unusually early age.” It can also mean “exceptionally early in development or occurrence.”

// A precocious musician, he’s been performing concerts since the age of seven. 

// She was a precocious child who could read before she started school.


“Songs aside, the musical [Matilda] follows the plot of [Roald] Dahl’s book pretty closely, chronicling the life of Matilda Wormwood, a precocious and sweet child who feels misunderstood by everyone both at home and at school.” — Emma Dibdin, Town & Country, 17 June 2022

Did You Know?

Precocious got its start in Latin when the prefix prae-, meaning “ahead of,” was combined with the verb coquere, meaning “to cook” or “to ripen.” Together, they formed the adjective praecox, which meant “early ripening” or “premature.” By the mid-1600s, English speakers had turned praecox into precocious and were using it especially to describe plants that produced blossoms before their leaves came out. Within decades, precocious was also being used to describe humans who developed skills or talents sooner than others typically did. Pop music lovers may recall the lyric “She’s precocious!” from “Bette Davis Eyes,” although the song itself was something of a late bloomer: originally released in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon (and cowritten by DeShannon and Donna Weiss), it didn’t become a hit until Kim Carnes’ Grammy Award-winning version was released in 1981.

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