Pre- is Often an Unnecessary Prefix

Please understand me. I think a prefix is a fine and useful thing – in its place. Unfortunately pre– is often not fine and not useful.

Here’s a sentence from today’s New York Times that caused my blood pressure to go up. Erin McKean, founder of Wordnik, an alternative online dictionary, was explaining how her team prepares citations to go online. “We don’t pre-select and pre-prune,” she said.

Under Erin’s leadership, Wordnik is doing a fine thing: Everyone can benefit from unmediated access to the way words are being used today. But what’s the difference between “selecting” and “pre-selecting”? “Pruning” and “pre-pruning”?

The pre– prefix shows up (usually unnecessarily) all the time. I prepaid for my vacation. I preregistered for a conference. I prearranged for a ride to the airport.

During political discussions about insurance, we keep hearing about coverage of pre-existing conditions. Really? What’s the difference between an existing condition and a pre-existing condition?

Does pre– add anything useful in those three sentences? No.

Down with it. I’m pre-deciding not to use pre– this way in 2012.


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4 thoughts on “Pre- is Often an Unnecessary Prefix

  1. Thomas Rowland

    A decade later and redundantly repetitive and unnecessary misuse of “pre” is everywhere in English in the wild. Let’s teach Gen Z to eschew “pre” by associating it with the Millennial and Gen X elders who started it.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Thomas! Overuse of “pre” was a blight well before the Millennials and Gen X’ers came along. I don’t think we should put all the blame on them!

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