Setting A Precedent: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 21, 2023

The term "setting a precedent" refers to the act of doing something that becomes a standard or example of how similar situations should be handled in the future. The term is often used in legal contexts, where a decision made in a case can influence how future similar cases are decided. However, it can also be used in various other circumstances.

In short:

  • "Setting a precedent" refers to establishing a pattern or example to be followed in the future.
  • It is often used in legal contexts but can also refer to any action or decision that sets a standard for future actions or decisions.

What Does "Setting a Precedent" Mean?

"Setting a precedent" has a few different meanings, depending on the context in which it's used. Generally, it refers to establishing a pattern or example that others will follow in the future. This can be applied to legal decisions, social norms, or personal behavior. When someone sets a precedent, they create a standard that others are likely to adhere to or use as a reference point.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • "Setting a precedent" implies setting an example or standard that influences future actions, decisions, or judgments. It sets a guidepost for how to handle similar situations in the future.
  • Although it has legal origins, it's frequently used in various contexts to describe a standard-setting action or decision.
  • For example, a company may set a precedent by implementing a new work-from-home policy. This decision could influence how other companies handle their own policies in the future.
  • Similar phrases to "setting a precedent" include "establishing a standard," "creating a norm," and "making an example."

Where Does "Setting a Precedent" Come From?

The phrase "setting a precedent" originates from the legal concept of a precedent, which is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or provides guidance for a court when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. The term "precedent" comes from the Latin word 'praecedent', which means 'going before.' The phrase has been used in English since at least the early 1400s.

Historical Example

"This little exception seems to have been thrown in for no other purpose than that of setting a precedent for investing his majesty with legislative powers."

- A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

10 Examples of "Setting a Precedent" in Sentences

To help you fully grasp how to use this phrase, let's take a look at some examples from various contexts:

  • The new policy, setting a precedent for environmental responsibility, prompted us to circle back to our previous waste management practices.
  • The chef decided to start from scratch, setting a precedent for using only locally sourced ingredients in the restaurant.
  • By refusing to negotiate under pressure, she was setting a precedent that would deter future demands.
  • As the law sets a precedent for equal pay, it will go into effect next month, benefiting many workers.
  • The new policy set a precedent for more flexible working hours in the company.
  • By setting a precedent that less is more, the minimalist design trend gained popularity among homeowners.
  • They believed that accepting the offer would set a precedent for future negotiations.
  • Although the decision isn't set in stone, it sets a precedent for future discussions on the matter.
  • "Well said," the manager agreed, acknowledging the employee's suggestion to set a precedent for open communication.
  • By standing up for her rights in the workplace, she was setting a precedent for all the women in her field.

Examples of "Setting a Precedent" in Pop Culture

The phrase "setting a precedent" also appears in popular culture, usually referring to an action or decision that establishes a new standard or guideline.

Here are a few examples:

  • The book Managing People by Alison Hall has the quote: "The most common fear of a manager is that of 'setting a precedent,' that is if they say yes to one request to adopt a particular working pattern from an individual, they will have to say yes to all others."
  • "Setting a Dangerous Precedent" is the title of an episode of the podcast series The Canine Paradigm.
  • The podcast series Reforge Gaming also has an episode titled "Hogwarts Legacy is Setting a Dangerous Precedent."
  • The popular crime drama TV series The Sopranos has the line: "It's all about setting a precedent."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Setting a Precedent"

There are various other expressions that convey a similar meaning to "setting a precedent."

Here are some of them:

  • Establishing a standard
  • Making an example
  • Creating a norm
  • Starting a trend
  • Paving the way
  • Leading by example
  • Forming a guideline
  • Blazing a trail
  • Breaking new ground
  • Charting a course

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Setting a Precedent":

  • What does "setting a precedent" mean?

"Setting a precedent" refers to the act of creating a new standard or guideline, often through a decision or action, which can then be referred to or followed in the future.

  • How can I use "setting a precedent" in a sentence?

You can use "setting a precedent" when discussing a first-time event or decision that is likely to be followed in the future. For instance, "The recent study shed some light on the importance of setting a precedent for mental health awareness in the workplace."

  • Where does the term "setting a precedent" come from?

The term "setting a precedent" originates from legal terminology, where a precedent is a judgement that serves as an authoritative rule or pattern in future, similar cases.

  • Can you use "setting a precedent" in personal contexts?

Yes, while it's often used in legal and professional contexts, "setting a precedent" can also be used in personal situations to denote the establishment of a new norm or standard.

  • Does "setting a precedent" always have positive implications?

No, "setting a precedent" does not always have positive implications. The precedent set can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the nature of the action or decision and its potential future impact.

  • Can "setting a precedent" refer to both actions and decisions?

Yes, "setting a precedent" can refer to both actions and decisions, as long as they are capable of being followed in the future or influence future events.

  • What is the significance of "setting a precedent" in the legal world?

In the legal world, "setting a precedent" is very significant as it can directly influence future legal cases. Legal professionals often refer to previous cases as precedents to justify their arguments.

  • Can "setting a precedent" affect societal norms and culture?

Yes, setting a precedent can often have wide-ranging implications, including affecting societal norms and culture. For instance, a landmark court case can set a precedent that changes societal attitudes and norms.

  • Does "setting a precedent" imply responsibility?

Yes, "setting a precedent" often implies a responsibility, as the action or decision taken can shape future actions, decisions, or expectations.

  • Is "setting a precedent" a universal concept?

Yes, the concept of "setting a precedent," or establishing a guide for future conduct based on past actions or decisions, is universal and applies across cultures and languages.

Final Thoughts About "Setting a Precedent"

"Setting a precedent" is a significant phrase that highlights the importance of creating standards and examples for others to follow. It can shape future actions and decisions in various contexts, from legal cases to personal behavior.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Setting a precedent" involves establishing a guide for future behavior, decisions, or treatments based on current actions or decisions.
  • The term is applicable in contexts where an action or decision is likely to be followed in the future, such as legal cases or company policies.
  • While the precedent set can be beneficial or detrimental, it often comes with a sense of responsibility due to its potential influence on future events.

Understanding the concept of "setting a precedent" can provide a more nuanced view of how individual actions or decisions can significantly impact future outcomes in both personal and broader societal contexts.

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