or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, December 22, 2008


Reader D.J. has this to say about yesterday's post:

I'm willing to give them a pass because of this: "Jim was poking around in his phone..."

Sure, "prefix" has the meaning you describe. But when you're talking about phone numbers, it also has a specific technical meaning, viz. "those first three numbers after the area code that used to be encoded with a cool exchange nickname and a single number, like PEnnsylvania 6-5000."

So the phone engineers, faced with the need for a verb to describe the action "dial 9 to get an outside line," found that the correct word was already in use. So instead of using "prefix" for two different things, they kitbashed together "prepend" and knocked off for a beer.

In French, this would be unforgivable. But in English it's just another day in the linguistic salt mines. I can't get too worked up about it.

I'm not too worked up about it, either. I just don't like it. I love charming or amusing new coinages, but I really do not care for words that have the stink of knowing cleverness about them (like Sniglets or the words in Barbara Wallraff's Word Fugitives) or those that seem superfluous because a word already exists that fills the need.

To me, "prepend" is just such a word.

In my experience, engineers, whatever their social malformations (a very boy's-club lot were most of the ones I knew), are very intelligent people, and it seems to me that they ought to be able to tell the difference between "prefix" used as a noun ("those first three numbers...") and as a verb ("dial 9..."). Context would make it absolutely clear which meaning was intended. They didn't need to invent a word for the sake of precision, as the medical world is known to do. They just made one up because, and I still don't see how it was needed, and I still don't like it.

I agree with you about the salt mines, though. "Prepend" is par for the course, just another shovelful.


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