Monday, May 05, 2008

Gratuitous affixation: To preference

This afternoon, I heard a very distinguished scholar at the University, someone who's held high political office and is really at the top of the academic world, say this:
I strongly preference the former solution.
He used the form twice, in fact, a bit apart within the same presentation. I don't think I know this usage, and I poked around quickly and didn't see it. (I tried both to preference and strongly preference and scrolled through a few.) But it seems like a natural analogical extension of something peevologists love to hate: to reference for to refer.

I expected morphological blocking here — if you have the word to prefer, you don't expect people to coin a morphologically complex form. A contributor to this blog, Monica, refers to this (or maybe she references this) as gratuitous affixation. I'm figuring that it's this kind of formula:
more syllables = more learned
But I haven't really thought about this.


Ben Zimmer said...

Gratuitous affixation of the classical variety is surely what leads some people to equate penultimate with ultimate, epicenter with center, and quintessential with essential.

Another one I noticed a while back is juxtaposition used as a verb to mean position.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yeah, it's a robust pattern for sure.

Anonymous said...

The OED thinks that "preference" as a verb is fine. It's attested as early as 1904:

preference, v.

1. trans. orig. and chiefly U.S. To give preferential treatment or consideration to; to prefer.

1904 N.Y. Times 1 Oct. 9/3 The fact that a legal principle has there been applied to which we should have preferenced another ought be regarded as of slight concern. 1979 Managem. Sci. 25 33 HQ's centralized reviewing process includes not only ‘screening’ against Corporate constraints, but also ‘preferencing’ those proposals that are expected to yield more than the other. 2001 Australian (Brisbane) 28 Mar. 12/4 We are now being told that if Labor had not lent him a photocopier, Nigel Freemarijuana would have preferenced the Liberals.

Mr. Verb said...

I'll be danged. Thanks.

Monica said...

I can see how there could be two verbs, 'to prefer' and 'to preference' - with the latter meaning 'show preference for', with some kind of implication of possibly unfair special treatment. But I don't think the distinguished scholar in question meant that. I think he was just showing his eruditification level.

p.s. my favorite gratuitous affixation is 'relevancy'.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the earlier OED citations, but the 2001 Australian usage is not synonymous with 'prefer'. It refers to the allocation of voting preferences from one candidate to another in a preferential election. It's not a common usage: most people would say "give his preferences to".

Beijing Sounds said...

Gotta gripe that "gratuitous affixation" although descriptivous, is rather more scornfulish than I might expect from Mr. Verb, who usually resides rather far over to the descriptive side of the language commenting world.

Still, it's a phenom. The idea is very much part of corporate-speak. Possible extension: two part verb "build out" where one part might do, "build".

I'm gonna build out a deck about how this really works.

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, it took me a while to get this: I figured that 'gratuitous' was pretty neutral, just 'superfluous', but you're reading it as prescriptive. I'm pretty sure the person I heard it from didn't mean it that way.

But you're right on the phenom aspect ... I'm smelling a project out here for somebody.

Anyhow, thanks. And don't worry: We live and die at the descriptive end of the spectrum.

Gez said...

I don't like it one bit. It's pretentious. I firmly believe that usage should dictate over grammatical/logical rules, but only in the case of frequent and modern use.

Anonymous said...

Joining the conversation two years too late, but this is what turned up when I googled "preference verb".

My two cents: I want to use preference as a verb to describe (for purposes of evolutionary biology) what happens when the female of a species gives a preference to males with a particular trait. It seems that saying that the females "prefer" such males doesn't quite get to the idea. Quite frankly, the females are just acting out their genetic coding, and may not even have states of mind to allow "preferring" to occur. It makes more sense to describe what they are doing as "preferencing."