I’ve just come across a new one. In my local bike shop I saw a placard advertising PRE-PEDALLED BIKES. What on earth are they? I wondered. The assistant explained that when someone no longer wants a bike, they take it in, clean it up, make sure it’s safe, and sell it.
I bit my tongue: that sounds like a secondhand bike.
The wretched prefix “pre” is sprouting everywhere. Cars, for example, are no longer secondhand, but “pre-owned”. I can understand that usage for cars; after all, the secondhand car market wasn’t famous for honesty. But what about the others?
On the back of a cab, “pre-booking essential”. On the London Eye, “pre-booking is essential” and worse “Anyone wishing to visit will need to pre-book a ticket in advance.” (my italics) Most restaurants resist asking you to “pre-book” your table, perhaps because the use of Bookatable (now renamed TheFork), reminds them that the prefix is unnecessary.
I first came across “pre-order” years ago on Amazon. During a writing course I was running for the company, I challenged some of the participants to say why you couldn’t just “order” a book. They said it was because you were ordering or reserving something before it was available to buy. So? I was unconvinced, but needless to say it didn’t stop there. Strange superfluous prefixes have spread all over the place – “pre-ordering” your drinks, “pre-booking” your seats, “pre-planning” whatever. It’s not as if you could do any of those things afterwards, so why the prefix?
My work largely involves editing other people’s text – re-ordering ideas to give them more impact and simply cutting out unnecessary words that clog up your writing and obscure your meaning.
Here’s a tip: if you want to test whether a word or prefix is superfluous, try applying the opposite. Who ever went in for “post-planning”?