Posted by: Jack Henry | September 14, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Prepone

Dear Editrix,

While engaging in the hot-potato process of rescheduling a meeting, a teammate accepted an earlier time proposal and stated, "I’ll prepone the meeting." My eyes locked on the word prepone and after considering whether it was a typo, it hit me, "Duh! Prepone must be the opposite of postpone (pre vs. post). It makes so much sense!" Then I found the Merriam-Webster definition:

An Indian English word which means "to move to an earlier time"

Looks like MW has it pegged in Words We’re Watching and it hasn’t met criteria for entry. Can we make prepone happen?!

Excited Meeting Attendee

Dear Excited,

Wow! When I started looking into this, I stumbled onto some interesting points of view. Indeed, the resources I found referred to it as “Indian English,” which I wasn’t aware of. We hear of British English and American English…but Indian English? That was new to me.

The thing that interested me outside of the term “Indian English” was how many of the references to the term prepone were not very complimentary. They referred to it as slang and said it wasn’t to be used in mixed company; DailyWritingTips described it as a word “too strange and unlovely to my ear for me to want to use it.” What is the story behind this word?

This article has information on prepone and its interesting history. From Quartz India:

Snobbery seems to be costing the world a useful word.

While most English speakers in South Asia are familiar with the word prepone, its use will still draw blank looks elsewhere. Even in India, many well-read, well-travelled intellectuals wouldn’t be caught dead using it, unless in jest. But there isn’t really any other word in the English language that can qualify as a respectable synonym.

For the uninitiated, prepone means to bring something forward to an earlier date or time. Or very simply, it is the opposite of postpone.

The word has been a part of Indian English for decades, but it is shunned in many formal settings.

Sadly, prepone’s lack of acceptance in highbrow Indian circles has clearly tarnished its chances of gaining international recognition.

And that’s part of a larger problem—Indian English is as storied, authentic, and valid an offshoot as American English, Hong Kong English, or Jamaican English, but we don’t celebrate it as such.

If these prepone naysayers can’t embrace Indian English, maybe they should take note of this surprising fact: Prepone exists in Oxford English Dictionary (OED), aka, “the definitive record of the English language.”

According to the dictionary, the word is mostly attributed to Indian English, but it was first used in the 16th century, long before English spread in India. At that point, it meant “to place in front of.” It comes from the Latin praeponere.

There you have it, Mr. Excited. Donna and I both like it and think maybe with a little push, we could make it more than just a word that Merriam-Webster is watching. Let’s do it! Shamelessly prepone that next meeting and see what happens!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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