Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let pre-dom ring

The pre- prefix is good, clean fun, as many folks have noted. For example, in The Atlantic in November 1998, Corby Kummer had a cute essay[1] that was (ultimately) about pre-, which went along these lines:
I wear pre-washed jeans. I have outstanding loans for which I was pre-qualified and which I hope to pre-pay, and hold credit cards for which I was pre-selected and pre-approved. I make pre-retirement deductions from my pre-tax earnings. I pre-medicate before going to the dentist, because of a pre-existing condition. My children were pre-tested in advance of pre-school. They will clamor, I predict, to see the Star Wars prequel.
It's come up here before, where we noted pregaming and pre-buttal. Sort of along the lines of this last, today I found an entry on polyglot conspiracy in which Lauren makes this sad (but lingusitically amusing) comment:
... although I ought to feel invigorated and hopeful this time around by the impressiveness of many of the Democratic candidate options, as well as the real possibility that we could get a changemaker in office, I somehow still feel pre-defeated.
I know this feeling, don't you?

People occasionally complain about "illogical" uses of pre-, but I think we can agree that pre-boarding does mean something different than just plain ol' boarding, and that pre-announcing something is different than just announcing it. The beauty of the prefix is its flexibility in the terrain that it can occupy, ranging from the nominally logical "before" to the semantic areas of "anticipatory" or "preparatory" or just "early." And although the prefix can cover a lot of territory, I don't recall offhand any usages in which it was unclear what the intent was. Unless, of course, I'm post-remembering wrong.


[1] I am amazed, I must confess, that a link that I harvested nearly 10 years ago is still good.

4 comments:

Linda - Nickers and Ink said...

Your PRE-mise is PRE-ternaturally PRE-cise.

;-)

Justin Frazier said...

Pre-boarding does mean something different than boarding... but it doesn't mean what is intended. Pre-boarding should be the the things that occur before passengers enter the craft. Passengers entering the craft is ALWAYS boarding. Also, pre-heating an oven is complete lunacy. To do this should mean to leave the oven in it's current state... cold. Cold is pre-heat. "Heat the oven to 375" will suffice.

WordzGuy said...

>it doesn't mean what is intended

Who determines what's intended? As far as I know, the only way to determine what a word means is to listen to how people use it and work backward from there.

Anonymous said...

I saw a nice use today where they not only decided not to hyphenate, but thought it was OK to redefine as well: someone had a place where you could put some text (Text), the stuff that came after the text (Posttext) and the stuff that came after the text (Pretext).