Pre-fixing it

Whoooeee! So I just got back to Israel about 2 weeks ago, after spending one of the more bewildering weeks of recent memory hopping from place to place. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I had 6 separate flights (4 international, 2 domestic) within 9 days, and that at one point I spent 9 hours in JFK terminal, and then a 9-hour flight later, I spent another 12 hours traipsing around downtown Istanbul. (Yes, the one in Turkey.) I think I’ll present one of the highlights1 here:

America seems to love the prefix “pre,” especially when it’s totally unnecessary. Among the precious pieces of mail still being sent to my parents’ house was a letter saying I was “pre-approved” for some sort of cellphone giveaway. I’m sorry, but is “preapproved” somehow a stage before approval? Because it seems to me that it’s just their way of saying “approved” while making me feel special: “Look, Mother! I’m not just approved for this, I’m pre-approved, before all those other chumps. I simply must order this product and/or service post-haste!” “Pre” crops up in other places, like a movie being exclusively “pre-released” or (one of my favorites) how the drinking before a college party (not that I went to parties in college…) is called “pregaming,” the “game” being (you guessed it) more drinking. But none of this tops my recent brief stroll into bewilderment with JetBlue. I walked up to the woman at the gate, and asked if I could board the plane.

“We’re pre-boarding,” she replied

I figured that this might mean that only the disabled and children were boarding. I was clearly not disabled, and, since I now sport a full beard, I also can no longer pass for a toddler. But I gave it a shot anyway: “So, can I go on?”

“Well, we’re pre-boarding.”

Then I came right out and said it. “How is that different than the actual boarding?”

“No, sir. We’re not boarding yet. This is pre-boarding.”

I kind of looked at her funny, shrugged, and boarded the plane. The Israeli in me was shaking his head and laughing, while the American was simply confused. I got to my seat and sat down without incident. Conclusion: pre-boarding looks an awful lot like boarding. Maybe they teach the difference in flight-attendant school.

Bonus story: I got a letter from Cornell, my alma mater, saying (yes, really) “We miss you as a dues paying class member.” I’m reminded of Conan O’Brien’s description of college fund-raising in his Harvard Commencement speech:

Here’s how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you’re tired and most vulnerable. A voice asks you for money. Knowing they just raised 2.5 billion dollars you ask, “What do you need it for?” Then there’s a long pause and the voice on the other end of the line says, “We don’t need it, we just want it.” It’s chilling.

Yeah, I’m sorry, Cornell, but I seem to recall paying you about $128,000 in tuition. I think that should tide you over for a while. I did tell you not to spend it all at once, right?

  1. Note that by “highlights” I don’t mean the things I actually enjoyed, but the things that I think the reader will find entertaining.

2 Responses to “Pre-fixing it”

  1. Eli says:

    I think the mortgage pre-approval thing means approval before you know what house you want to buy. This is, in fact, “pre,” since the mortgage usually is latched on to (I’m sure there’s a real business phrase for that) the house.

  2. Avner says:

    I am a dues paying alumnus of Cornell. I think I was pre-approved for that.

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