prep - podictionary 880

Oct 20th, 2008 | podcasts
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John Richardson asked me to do the word prep.

My immediate thought was that this was just an abbreviation of prepare.

And of course it is.

But lots of words are abbreviations of other words or strings of words that, since the abbreviation has become an accepted word, the older parent has been forgotten.

The example I like to give is goodbye.  No one thinks of goodbye as an abbreviation—though it is—and no one remembers that it used to be God be with you.

And it turns out that the word prep has been around a little longer than I’d have first expected.

The first citation for prep as an abbreviation of prepare was over 100 years ago and originally meant to train a horse.

So that’s long enough that it’s made its way into dictionaries and since lots of people use it it’s become a legitimate word in its own right.

That’s prep the verb but prep the noun, meaning a person who’s gone to prep school, is even older.

Prep as in prep school is first cited back in 1839.  Urbandictionary attests to the ongoing popularity of the word applied as some sort of insult to people whose parents paid for a private education.

Like many words that have become derogatory prep started out as a good thing. One early citation was from a parent of a prep boy who made good.

I’ll talk about him in a moment, but first I’ll tell you about the parent of prep since it has a lineage longer than 200 years.

As an English word prepare is about 500 or 600 years old but came via French from Latin so praeparare is a few thousand years old.

Back then it meant “to make ready beforehand” which is pretty much what prepare means today.  But since the pre prefix usually means “before” doesn’t that imply parare meant “to make ready”?

Indeed it does and that’s why the little knife in the knife block in the kitchen is called a paring knife; it’s used to make the food ready.

Back to that preppy boy of 150 years ago.

His name was Sidney Lanier and when he’d just turned 21, his dad still felt he could give him some advice on writing.

“A prep must mind his P’s and Q’s,” he said.

I guess Sidney did, since he grew up to be one of America’s respected men of letters teaching courses about Chaucer and Shakespeare at Johns Hopkins University.  He wrote poetry and the US Postal Service issued a stamp with his face on it.

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October 24, 2008 @ 1:04 am

[...] podictionary word was prep Tuesday’s word history was for P’s and Q’s Wednesday’s word origin was for [...]

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