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I found this in the writings of 19th century economist Francis Ysidro Edgeworth:

To precise the ideas ...

Was "precise" ever used much as a verb?  Can and should we use it as a verb today?

Research findings:

  • préciser means to clarify in French.  In English we use verbs such as specify and detail to mean what the French mean by préciser.   provided by David Handelman, supplemented by Drew
  • It turns out that F Y Edgeworth’s mother was Catalan, his father died when he was two and he was educated at home in Ireland up to entering university.  Not having much knowledge of Spanish I wonder whether ‘to precise’ is an Anglicisation of a Spanish, or possibly Catalan, verb.  It’s also worth noting that the ultimate root of precise is a Latin verb even though we use it only as an adjective.       provided by BoldBen
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    That just looks like a mistake to me. AFAIK there is no verb "to precise". – Max Williams Sep 22 '16 at 7:26
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    It looks like a gallicism: préciser means to clarify. And it looks wrong in English (to me). – David Handelman Sep 22 '16 at 7:53
  • I looked up F Y Edgeworth, of whom I'd never heard, and it turns out that his mother was Catalan, his father died when he was two and that he was educated at home in Ireland up to entering university. Not having much knowledge of Spanish I wonder whether 'to precise' is an anglicisation of a Spanish, or possibly Catalan, verb. It's also worth noting that the ultimate root of precise is a latin verb even though we use it only as an adjective. – BoldBen Sep 22 '16 at 11:56
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    The full OED defines the verb to precise as To make precise or definite; to define precisely or exactly; to particularize. Now rare. – FumbleFingers Sep 22 '16 at 12:26
  • What @DavidHandelman said. It is French. In English we use verbs such as specify and detail to mean what the French mean by preciser. – Drew Sep 22 '16 at 13:47
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In a comment, FumbleFingers answered:

The full OED defines the verb to precise as To make precise or definite; to define precisely or exactly; to particularize. Now rare.

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  • Superb research @FumbleFingers. I wonder how rare it was in Edgworth's time. – BoldBen Sep 22 '16 at 17:06
  • The -ing form occurs in modern use in the term 'precising definition' [Wikipedia]. An important usage on ELU. When one sense is chosen from the usual array of polysemes (eg the mathematician's definition of 'similar'), or when arbitrary prescriptions are made to a default sense (eg from the Wiki. article: 'From a class syllabus: "Class participation" means attending class, listening attentively, answering and asking questions, and participating in class discussions,' we have a precising definition. Thus the need to define one's terms. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 7 '20 at 11:54
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In medical terminology 'precise' can be used as a verb. For example, neurologists and ethicists have used it as a verb as in 'to precise the definition of brainstem death'.

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    Do you have any citations to back you up? I've never seen it used like that before. (Admittedly not a neurologist) – marcellothearcane Aug 5 '17 at 14:18
  • I first saw it several years ago in a comment by the editor of the Jn of Medical Ethics referring to an author who had used it this way. Since then I have used it in several publication as it is useful in showing how brain death as a concept was precised into brainstem death. – David Lamb Apr 6 '18 at 22:10
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In Catalan (and Spanish), the verb precisar, meaning "to specify; to state precisely" does exist:

PRECISAR v.: cast. precisar.
|| 1. tr. Determinar d'una manera precisa.

Més aviat pels voltants, rera, no puc precisar, Espriu Lab. 20.

Wikipedia makes [un-cited] mention that precise as a verb in English is "... used by non-native speakers...".

So it seems probable that is was a calque from Catalan, or it may be an archaic usage of "to precise" in English (see Google Ngrams results for "precised"), however, note that if precise ever existed as an anglicised verb it already seemed continental in flavour by Edgeworth's time:

... the railroads had outlined, "precised", as the French say, the real fundamentals of the difficulties of the railroads...

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"I would like to precise that I have no qualifications in this area". Does NOT have the same meaning as "I would like to specify that I have no qualifications in this area". "Precise" meaning to make quite clear, wheras "specify" implies which among several choices is the one you mean. Yes I speak French fluently, but it's not my mother tongue so I do not think that has influenced me, yet I have always used "to precise" in all its conjugations.

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