Precut, Precooked, and Pre-existing

Today I’m posting some thoughts that my friend Kelly Pomeroy wrote in response to a post I did last week. I was griping about the terms precut, precooked, and pre-existing – I think the “pre” is unnecessary. You can read Kelly’s response below – and you should.

There are two things I like about her response. Kelly brought up points I hadn’t thought of – about psychology, for example. More important, she shows you how pros think and talk about language.

In school, there’s often so much to cover that teachers have to settle for a cut-and-dried, right-or-wrong approach. Pros know that there may be many layers of meaning and many angles to consider.

Here’s Kelly’s response:

Well, marketing deals with psychology rather than logic. The term “cut meat” is as chopped as the meat. It’s terse. It’s unfriendly. It’s followed by another monosyllabic word. It doesn’t flow. It highlights the violence of the word “cut.”

The term “precut” meat is softer, friendlier, more euphonious. It emphasizes the fact that much of the work – the bloodiest part of the work – is already done before you even buy the product. It also implies that the cutting was intentional, not the result of an accident. It was done out of concern for the buyer.

“Cooked” to describe a meal isn’t as stark as “cut,” because has two syllables. And cooking has positive associations that cutting doesn’t. So the “pre” may be less important in this case than with the “cut” example; but the pattern has been set. And the emphasis provided by “pre” gets extra mileage because of all the effort it takes to prepare a whole meal.

I think my argument is strongest in the medical example. If you’re being treated for cancer, it’s an existing condition (unless you’re being treated by a snake oil salesman). But it seems likely that the staff’s very consequential concern, under Trumpcare, was whether it existed when you signed up for the insurance.


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