or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Jim was poking around in his phone, for some reason, and said, "What does 'prepend' mean?"

I'd never heard it before, and I wasn't even sure it was a word, but I said, "Well, judging from the etymology, it means 'to hang before', so I guess it must mean 'to append to the beginning of'," which doesn't actually make any sense--"append" means "to attach to the end of"--but it was as close as I could some.

And sure enough, if "prepend" means anything, it means "to attach to the beginning of". The reason I'd never heard it before is because it's computerese, jargon, a made-up word modeled after "append", designed to not confuse people who might not understand that "prefix" is not only a noun but also a verb with exactly the meaning that "prepend" was coined to have.

I don't necessarily have an argument with invented words, but it does bother me when someone decides to make up a word for something that we already have a good working version of.

I would like to note that the spellchecker on my Mac does not red-flag "prepend", so it knows it and likes it. I beg to differ.


Blogger D.J. said...

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.

Monday, December 22, 2008 11:08:00 AM  

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