I’ve just come across a very interesting edge case in the perennial issue “What is an English word?” I almost hate to post about it, because by doing so I’m ruining the pristine Google results, which at present consist of three hits: Politics in the Rural Society, by P. M. Jones (“Pockets of preciputary practice existed in the North, notably in Picardy and Flanders”); A History of the Family, Vol. 2: The Impact of Modernity, ed. Andre Burguiere, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Martine Segalen, and Francois Zonabend (“It is also clear that the preciputary system which dominated in southern France was related to the stem family”); and “From mother to daughter: The transmission of fertility” by Agnès Fine, Véronique Moulinié, and Jean-Claude Sangoï (“However, in the Haut-Comminges, when inheritance is preciputary, it lends no systematic advantage to the eldest son”). From those quotes it sounds like an ordinary word, perhaps a little specialized (I’m pretty sure no one reading this will know what it means) but a member in good standing of the English word-hoard. And yet it is not in any English dictionary, not even in the remote reaches of the OED (an advanced search turns up no results), and three Google hits is essentially zero as far as frequency of use is concerned.
What does it mean, you ask? Well, it’s an anglicized form of French préciputaire (an adjective based on the noun préciput, from Latin praecipuum), so let’s turn to The Council of Europe French-English Legal Dictionary; on p. 89 we find “donation préciputaire – money, chattels or land which the surviving spouse is entitled to take from the community property before partition,” and on p. 226 “part préciputaire – gift to an heir out of an estate in addition to his share.” Apparently there is no other single-word English equivalent, using the French adjective would be awkward, and using a long periphrasis every time you want to deal with the concept would be even more so. So even though by all normal measures there is no English word “preciputary,” I am leaving it in the text I’m editing, and encouraging others to use it so its foothold will be less precarious (or précaire, as they say in France).