A letter or group of letters attached to the beginning of a word that partly indicates its meaning. Common prefixes include anti- (against), co- (with), mis- (wrong, bad), and trans- (across).
Etymology:From the Latin, "to fasten in front"
Examples & Observations:
- circum = around
"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."
(Henry David Thoreau)
- dis = apart, away
"Finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand until it finally disappears."
(Robert W. Sarnoff)
- "Prefixes are generally set solid with the rest of the word. Hyphens appear only when the word attached begins with (1) a capital letter, as with anti-Stalin, or (2) the same vowel as the prefix ends in, as with: anti-inflationary, de-escalate, micro-organism. Yet in well-established cases of this type, the hyphen becomes optional, as with cooperate."
(Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004)
- "Lately the prefix trend has been shrinking. During the 1980s, 'mini-' gave way to 'micro-,' which has yielded to 'nano-.' In the new millennium, companies such as Nanometrics, Nanogen and NanoPierce Technologies have all embraced the prefix, despite complaints their products were hardly nano-scale (a billionth of a meter or smaller). Even Eddie Bauer sells stain-resistant nano-pants. (They're available in 'extra-large' for the retailer's not-so-nano customers.)"
(Alex Boese, "Electrocybertronics." Smithsonian, March 2008)
- "We're talking prefixes today. By my inaccurate and utterly unreliable count, contemporary lexicographers list 152 'dis' words and 161 'mis' words. The 'dis' list begins with the verb 'to dis' (or diss), meaning 'to treat with contempt or disrespect." It ends with 'disvalue,' i.e., to depreciate, consider of little value. The 'mis' list begins with 'misact,' which no one has ever seen in print or heard in speech. It runs on to 'misuse,' which happens to writers every day."
(James Kilpatrick, "To 'dis,' or not to 'dis,'" June 4, 2007)
- The Lighter Side of Prefixes
pre = before
"What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on [a plane] before you get on?"
"If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted; musicians denoted; cowboys deranged; models deposed; tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?"
(Virgnia Ostman, quoted by Laurence J. Peter in Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Times. Quill, 1993)
"I don't trust the guy. I think he regifted, then he degifted."
(Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld, 1995)