Pre-pare to be Pre-Annoyed by Pre

I’ve started to get really annoyed by our use of “pre” everywhere. Let’s band together and stop it!

The prefix pre- essentially means “before,” and the word prefix is an excellent example of its proper use. We got pre- from the Latin prae, and in words borrowed from Latin like preclude (praeclūdere).

But now we tack it on to goddamn everything.

George Carlin famously pointed out that the airlines’ “pre-boarding process” is ridiculous; are you “getting on before you get on?” It’s just a boarding process; if there’s a “pre-boarding process” then it involves things like cleaning and catering the aircraft – things that happen before boarding. 

We’ve also got “prepaid.” What does that mean? A gift card isn’t “prepaid;” it’s just paid for. “Prepaid” would refer to the time before you paid for it, which is pointless, right?

Cruises offer “prepaid shore excursions,” but they’re really just “paid shore excursions;” the fact that you paid for them before the cruise embarks maybe makes them “pre-embarkation paid excursions,” but that’s super-awkward.

We tend to attach pre- to the wrong words as a kind of shortcut. Delta lets you “pre-select” your meals if you’re flying in business or first class, but you’re really just “selecting” them. If there’s a pre- involved, it’d be a “pre-flight selection,” but again, that seems awkward and unnecessary.

Companies offer “pre-reads” for major meetings, when they really are offering a “pre-meeting read.” The list goes on.

Sure, I get that our profligate use of pre- isn’t killing anyone. Language is about communicating, and if we all know what the underlying meaning is, then it’s really fine. But it also seems like we just enjoy adding words where there’s no reason to, perhaps to make them seem sexier or us seem smarter. It’s why you can’t buy anything anymore without also buying into a cockamamy “system” – I tried to buy a razor the other day and was required to purchase the entire Shaving System. Sheesh.

I probably should have pre-warned (pre-read warned?) you that this was a predominantly prevaricative posting with a seemingly prehistoric perspective, making no real point other than to vent, and it might have been preposterous, but at least it’s over <grin>.

One thought on “Pre-pare to be Pre-Annoyed by Pre

  1. Ray Ebersole

    You want one that annoys me is when someone asks you to input your PIN number. They should just say input your PIN. It’s redundant since they are really saying input your Personal Identification Number number.

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