A new preposition is born

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People seem to imagine the prepositions, like other so-called "function words", belong to a fixed and fairly small list that is handed down to us unchanging over the centuries: at, by, for, from, in, into, of, off, on, to, under, with, within, without, a few others, and that's it for our lifetime. But it's not like that. Not only is the list of prepositions longer than people think (probably over 200 items in all), it is growing. New prepositions pop up from time to time, some borrowed from other languages and others derived from various sources within English. Brett Reynolds and Rodney Huddleston have discovered a new one. Brett heard somebody say (about a water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario): "How is the water, post Walkerton?" And he suspected this meant post had to be a preposition, so he mailed Huddleston about it. Huddleston had already collected an example of the same kind: Post the wash-out from the credit crunch, most assets globally were overpriced (The Weekend Australian, 26-27 April 2008, page 39). And then just today he got a piece of mail including the sentence Post the entitlement offer, the only remaining bank facility is with ABN AMRO Bank. That's three. Get used to it, folks: we have a new preposition amongst us. Post is already in most dictionaries as a prefix. Expect the dictionaries to add "prep" to the entry in… oh, about fifty years or so would be my guess (dictionaries don't exactly work like greased lightning when it comes down to new usages like this: the new words they add every year or two are mostly new nouns).

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  1. Janice Huth Byer said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    I wonder if the ubiquity of the phrase "post-9/11" acted as a foot in the door for "post" to become a preposition?

  2. .mau. said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    Just for curiosity, why do you think at prep instead of pre or ante?

  3. Faldone said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    This one I'll buy as a preposition, unlike your earlier so-called objectless prepositions, e.g., 'bush'.

    [See my radio talk transcripts here and here to follow what Faldone is referring to. —GKP]

  4. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    The OED, under the entry for the Latin preposition post (included separately from the prefix post- and the various other posts because of its use in Latin prepositional phrases borrowed into English), says, rather condescendingly:

    Usu. found in contexts where after would be equally appropriate and more agreeable.

    Their earliest example of is from 1965:

    Der Ferne Klang is post-Wagnerian, and post just about everything else that was happening at the turn of the century.

    (Here, we might note, after would not be equally appropriate, because the prepositional post crucially echoes both the sound and the sense of the prefixal post that precedes it.)

    So there's at least one dictionary that's not too behindhand in acknowledging this usage, even if it does so grudgingly.

    [Quite right; I misjudged the OED, and I hereby apologize to it. Sorry. —GKP]

  5. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    Oops–I meant to include a bit more of the OED's description of the relevant sense of post; here's the larger picture:

    9. With English words and phrases. Cf. post- B. 1 d.

    NOTE: Usu. found in contexts where after would be equally appropriate and more agreeable. —Ed.

  6. Tim M said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    Anyone have any intuitions about any ways in which this differs from 'after'? How is "post the washout…" different from "after the washout…"?

  7. greg said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:40 am

    @Tim M – spelling. let's hear it for synonyms!

  8. Nathan said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    Why would they have to differ? One word per meaning is a silly idea. Non-metaphorical differences between under, beneath, and underneath are probably subtle at best.
    You could argue that post and after reflect strong differences in style or register, but syntactically and semantically they're pretty close.

  9. peter said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    This entry brings to mind a conversation I once had with a travel agent in India, who, after telling me of a flight cancellation over a busy weekend, had suggested that I prepone my journey.

  10. Tim M said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    >> Why would they have to differ?
    Yeah, I'm not saying they have to differ, I can easily imagine a world where 'after' just fell out of favor and 'post' became popular without any significant difference in meaning. But I thought maybe there was some subtle difference in connotation, or something having to do with causality or something, nothing I can easily identify, I thought I would consult the professional linguists to see if I was missing something :).

  11. Randy said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    Can you give other examples of words that are now universally accepted as prepositions, but weren't always such? Perhaps a short list of the most recent ones to have been granted membership to this exclusive club.

    [Per, plus, and minus, borrowed from Latin. Times (in the multiplication sense) from the English plural noun meaning "instances or repetitions". Pace borrowed (I think) from Italian. Vis a vis borrowed from French. Amok (or amuck), an intransitive preposition (takes no NP) borrowed from Malay. Thanks (takes a PP with to) and come (as in come Monday), from English verbs. Owing (from the gerund-participle of owe) and due (originally an adjective), both taking PP with to. Home, as in head home, from the English noun. Bush in Australian English (an intransitive preposition meaning "out into the wilderness"). And many more. —GKP]

  12. Mike Keesey said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    "After" is neutral. "Post" implies that the event/period in question has fundamentally changed the state of things.

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    I was wondering about the domestication of other Latin prepositions. "Post," perhaps because of postman, etc. already sounds "domestic" in a way that ab or propter don't. I expect "versus" (which has escaped from legal jargon into somewhat wider use) is treated by the Cambridge Grammar as an English preposition, somewhere on the list of 200. "Contra," as used in, e.g., "Nietzsche Contra Wagner," still sounds a bit learned. There's also a jargony use of "ex" as a preposition in the financial world, with a meaning entirely distinct from ex- as a productive English prefix. E.g., the "iShares MSCI All Country Asia ex Japan Index Fund." However, this usage seems to be closer semantically to Latin "sine" than Latin "ex," so maybe it's just a clipped form of "except"? Although when a stock is trading "ex dividend," it definitely doesn't feel like "except" would be an acceptable substitute for "ex" although "without" would be.

  14. Philip said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    I taught English in Shanghai back in the mid-80s. The newspapers sponsored a nation-wide English test, and one of the questions was something like "In a sentence like 'Two times two is four' or 'Two minus one equals one,' what part of speech is 'times' or 'minus'?" The answer was preposition–which my (Webster's 3rd) dictionary confirms.

    This seems utterly bizarre to me. Any comments/clarification?

    [Only the comment that it doesn't seem at all bizarre to me. Kudos to Webster for noticing. —GKP]

  15. Q. Pheevr said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    @Philip:

    I think "preposition" is not a bad answer. Compare "two times two" with "two by two," or "two minus one" with "one from two." On the other hand, one could argue that times is really the plural noun times—but I'm not sure what else one can say about minus.

  16. Bill Walderman said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    The spread of the innovative English preposition "post" undercuts the notion that function words such as prepositions are the most stable in any language and the most resistant to borrowing.

  17. linda seebach said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    I remember encountering for the first time mathematical expressions of the kind "10 is congruent to 4 mod 3" (meaning that for both 10 and 4, the remainder is 1) and puzzling over what "mod" could possibly be doing in that sentence. When I finally figured out it was a preposition, I was amazed, because I had never realized I would ever learn a new one.

    A while back I brashly sent this unremarkable observation to Geoff Pullum , who graciously responded, 'You're dead right. A preposition, borrowed from Latin. Others are "per", "via", "contra", and (my philosopher partner reminds me) "pace", "cum" and the "a" of"a priori".'

    Two hundred sounds rather a lot, even so.

  18. Rachael said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

    I agree with mau: why not "pre"? I think "pre" is already used in English analogously to "post".

  19. Nik Berry said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    @ linda seebach:

    "Two hundred sounds rather a lot, even so"

    As Prof. Pullum pointed out to me in reply to a comment on 'Beyond Barking', even the word 'home' can be a preposition. My query was about the phrase 'I'm going back home' (where I now clearly see that home has to be a preposition).

  20. Aviatrix said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    To me, something that happens "after the flood" is something that happens and is over, like cleaning up. "Post the flood" indicates things that stay changed, like a new law requiring homeowners in low-lying areas to carry flood insurance. So I independently have the same feeling for this nascent pronoun as Mike Keesey.

    Wow, this language communication stuff really works.

  21. Aviatrix said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    Philip: I too would never have identified "minus" as a preposition, but in 'Two minus one equals one,' minus is doing exactly the same grammatical job as the "over" in 'Six over three equals two.'

    Do all prepositions sort of mean "in a spacial, temporal or metaphorically so relationship to"?

  22. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    A textbook I used in elementary school (rightly or wrongly) explained prepositions as "A preposition is anywhere a cat can go" accompanied by pictures of a cat on something, in something, under something, and so forth. (I realize that referring to spatial location might not be the most accurate way of characterizing what prepositions are, but maybe it's a good first approximation to use when explaining grammatical terms to elementary school children?)

    [I think this is the most frightening thing Skullturf has ever posted in these pages. Anywhere a cat can go? Sheesh. That's not even going to cover a story about a cat, or living without a cat, or frustrated because of the cat, let alone we managed to save the poor mouse notwithstanding the cat. It's one of the worst cases I've ever seen of serving up semantic slop instead of a grammatical definition that makes some sense. I have no particular abiding respect for elementary school children (if their brains were fully functioning, why would they leave expensive toys outside in the rain?), but I don't think we need to hand them a definition as stupid as this. Unless of course my customary generosity is causing me to massively overestimate the little tykes. —GKP]

    Re plus and minus: In the everyday informal speech of many people (though not in academic writing), "minus" and "times" can function as verbs: "And then you times both sides by 5, and then you minus x from both sides".

    Also, playing devil's advocate a bit with the Walkerton example: as it's an overheard example, could one argue that "post-Walkerton" is a single word and an adverb? Like "How is the water, lately?" (However, I'm just quibbling; I agree with the point that the set of prepositions is not as "closed" as one first might think.)

  23. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    If you count phrasal prepositions, as The Preposition Project does, you can get up to 334 prepositions (with 673 senses): abaft, aboard, about, above, absent, according to, across, a cut above, afore, after

    (I wrote about TPP here. Online lookup is here.)

  24. Steve Harris said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

    On "mod" as a preposition:

    That's actually an abbreviation for "modulo", as in "11 = 2, modulo 3", meaning that 1 and 2 are the same, ignoring multiples of 3. Mathematicians have expanded this metaphorically, so that we say "A = B, modulo X" to mean that A is the same as B, except for instances of X. Thus, "a coffee cup is the same as a donut, modulo geometry", meaning that a coffee cup and a donut have the same topology (the same connectivity, that of a ring), differing only in geometry, i.e., in the specific lengths and curvatures.

    What's interesting is that I've encountered this in the wild, i.e., outside the hallowed halls of mathematics. A few years ago I attended an address on Shakespeare given by an English professor married to a math colleague of mine. In the course of the talk, he said something like "Romeo is the same as Pyramus, modulo a meddlesome friar" (I don't recall the actual sentence, but it was that kind of usage). I asked him about this locution afterwards, and he said he'd just picked up from his wife; he hadn't quite realized that it's pretty much seen only in math.

    Was I the only one in the audience who understood exactly what he meant? Or was it something one could pick up by context. I wish now I'd investigated at the time.

  25. Steve Harris said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    CORRECTION

    meaning 11 and 2 are the same, ignoring multiples of 3

    *sigh*

  26. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

    @SQB, sometimes hyphenation has no impact on pronunciation, but I would pronounce the prepositional phrase "post Walkerton" with different stress and rhythm than the adjective/adverb "post-Walkerton." But hold on, I think I'm contrasting a sentence like "Post Walkerston, the situation was characterized by greater public concern" with "The post-Walkerton situation was characterized" etc. The "prepositional" phrase in the first sentence does seem to be doing something similar to adverbs like e.g. "Hopefully" in its oft-criticized sentence-initial mode. But I think part of the Pullum/Huddleston program is rejecting "adverb" as meaning everything I haven't fit into another category.

    @Ms. Seebach & also Prof. Pullum, I'm not sure that "a" belongs on that list because I can't say I've come across it in English outside of fixed phrases imported from Latin. In English, you can say "post hoc" and "post Walkerton"; you can say "a priori" but not a "RANDOM-NOUN" (although maybe the French-derived "a la RANDOM-NOUN"). To the extent Latin words used only in fixed phrases understandable as phrases by English speakers who've never studied Latin as such count as English words (which seems to me an odd way to think about it, but perhaps not without some merit), I rather expect the entire range of Latin prepositions will be represented, at least if you accept legal jargon as English. My sense is that lawyers who had even a smattering of high school Latin are now quite the minority in the US (increasing the incidence of typos in phrases like "de minimis" and "ad hominem" where pronunciation doesn't help you very much with guessing the final vowel if you never had to learn the declension patterns), but most of those who litigate know what "pro hac vice" means even if they couldn't tell you that "pro" is a preposition much less what it means on a freestanding basis.

  27. John Cowan said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    I think the mathematicians caught the jargon use of modulo from the computer hackers, though admittedly in many cases these were one and the same. Language Hat has a good discussion on this sense of the word.

  28. Conni said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Post is used in this way in medical English: Patient is status post CABG, or administer post meals.

    In status post, it's kind of the connotation aviatrix and Mike Keesey discuss. In the latter usage, it just means after.

  29. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    Re "mod" as an English preposition in math jargon and extensions therefrom, wikipedia says the math usage "modulo X" was introduced by Gauss in an 1801 book called Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, back when some serious scholars still published in Latin. I take it Gauss and his old Latin teachers would not have viewed modulo as a preposition, but rather as the ablative singular of the noun modulus, which appears to have some English math-jargon uses of its own. Since English syntax has trouble smoothly accommodating a lot of the things Latin uses ablative constructions for, it makes sense that it might have drifted as a part of speech in the process of domestication.

  30. D Jagannathan said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    @Bill Walderman

    The spread of the innovative English preposition "post" undercuts the notion that function words such as prepositions are the most stable in any language and the most resistant to borrowing.

    No. It undercuts the notion that function words such as prepositions form fundamentally unchanging, completely closed classes, which we should know to be false anyway by considering that some of our prepositions are etymologically transparent (be+hind, under+neath) while others are lexical atoms (down, near [lexicalized comparative of OE adj. neah]). But surely a handful of new true prepositions over the centuries is insignificant compared to what happens in the so-called open classes decade to decade.

  31. marie-lucie said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

    I agree with DJ. "most" does not mean "totally", it implies a comparison with other entities which are less stable and resistant. I don't know whether anyone has compiled a scale of stability and resistance to borrowing, but I would think that prepositions are less stable, etc than pronouns in that respect, although much more so than nouns.

  32. Wordnut said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    I don't have a problem with post flood. But post the flood still seems awkward to me. Hopefully "post" won't do for every use of "after." As a Jr., I would hate to be named post my father.

  33. kenny v said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

    why would it be "prep"? I think it'll be "pre." That second p in preposition is part of the root pos, which means "to place."

  34. acilius said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    @ Benjamin Zimmer: Thanks for the link!

  35. felix said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    Some people seem to be assuming that "post" as a preposition is borrowed from Latin "post" as a preposition, but I think the earliest example shows it quite clearly isn't—it's not a case of borrowing prepositions (which is pretty everyday, I thought, as I drove to the city via the freeway). It's a case of degrammaticalisation, which is apparently unusual. But it certainly isn't the first time it's happened, and, if I have anything to do with it, it won't be the last.

  36. Ellen K. said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    I too am puzzled by the idea that post as a preposition is borrowed direct from Latin. Seems to me to clearly be an extension of the prefix post-. And, yeah, that's from the Latin. Still, it's not the same thing as borrowing a preposition as a preposition.

  37. Fabio Montermini said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

    In my PhD about prefixes in Italian, I found out many cases of "prepositional" uses of prefixes in this and in other Romance languages. Prefixes which can take prepositional uses are in particular spatio-temporal ones (including abstract space, like anti-). The most employed in prepositional context are extra- and anti-, as in "extra il normale calendario" ('extra the normal schedule'), and if you do a Google search you'll find a lot of "anti-quelli che X" ('anti-those that X'). I suspect this possibility is greater for non prototypical prefixes (i.e. non native, phonologically non-cohering, etc.).
    Finally, I am not aware of a use of pace similar to that of English in Italian, neither today, nor in the past. I think it is more likely derived directly from Latin.

  38. Mark F. said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

    John Cowan — Why do you think mathematicians got the extended sense of 'modulo' from the hackers? In the link you provided, the first two citations in the quoted OED entry were by a mathematician and a philosopher, in an era when the population of computer people was small. Also, the metaphor is to a concept that arose in mathematics well before computers existed.

  39. Craig Russell said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    From some of the comments, it seems like some people are misunderstanding the end of the posting. When Geoff says:

    "Expect the dictionaries to add "prep" to the entry in… oh, about fifty years or so would be my guess…"

    I think some people here are taking this to mean "I think that, in addition to "post", "prep" will also become a preposition within the next fifty years." But it seems to me that what he means is "the already existing entry for the English prefix 'post' will one day have the label 'prep' added to it, marking its part of speech as 'preposition.'

  40. Craig Russell said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

    In response to Geoff's response to Randy's comment:

    How can we analyze "home" (as in "head home") as a preposition? What would be its object? I would call this an adverb (or an adverbial use of a noun, possibly a leftover from the days of case-endings–but that's probably just my tenancy to look at everything through the lens of Latin).

  41. bianca steele said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 7:56 pm

    John Cowan: ditto what Mark F. said. I have heard this before and was never sure why it was said.

  42. Harry Campbell said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

    "Expect the dictionaries to add "prep" to the entry in… oh, about fifty years or so would be my guess (dictionaries don't exactly work like greased lightning when it comes down to new usages like this: the new words they add every year or two are mostly new nouns)."

    It's intriguing to wonder what the justification might be, if any, for this casual swipe at lexicographers. Without being privy to in-house data like lists of new additions to a dictionary, or going through page by page by page comparing old and new editions, it would be hard to be in any position to know. Obviously, new senses can be harder to spot than brand new words, and when it comes to boasting on the back cover about the latest additions, "now including the new (well, ish) prepositional sense of the word post, woo-hoo!" is not going be a very sexy claim compared to "now includes credit crunch, phishing and carbon footprint". This might give the impression that nouns rule the roost, but it doesn't mean dictionaries aren't adding new senses of words all the time. They are.

  43. Tim Silverman said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

    Is "and" a preposition in "Two and three makes five"?

  44. Faldone said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

    My counter-argument to Geoff's argument that there are objectless prepositions, e.g., the under in 'the ship went right under' is that in this case the object is understood from context. It may be 'the waves' or 'the sea' or even 'the water'. It's not there but it's understood; it's elided. In the case of the chicks that headed bush, what is understood is the preposition. In this case I agree that bush is not an adverb, it's the object of an understood and elided preposition, to. The definite article is also elided just because 'the chicks headed the bush' just doesn't sound right. The whole phrase, 'under the waves' or 'to the bush' as acting as an adverb, which is why the trads will try to make bush be an adverb, but I say that it is the object of an understood preposition, the whole prepositional phrase acting as an adverb.

  45. Randy said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the list, Geoffrey. Most of those I wouldn't have thought of as prepositions. Even as a mathematician, I had never given any thought to what part of speech "plus", "times", and "minus" are. Poor division doesn't get a preposition, except that we often say "a over b" for "a divided by b". But this has more to do with the notation than it does the operation.

  46. Nathan Myers said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

    bianca s., Mark F.: My reason for agreeing with John Cowan about the path of "mod" via hackerdom is that mathematicians had it for centuries, but it didn't leak out until "we" got it.

    Amplifying on the difference between "after" and "post", the latter seems to me to imply a dependency on its object that "after" lacks.

  47. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    March 23, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

    Agree with Nathan. To me the synonym of "post" is certainly NOT "after", it's "following".

  48. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 12:16 am

    Generally, my intuitions agree with other commenters: "post 9/11" or "post Cold War" suggest that the character of the times was changed by those events, whereas "after 9/11" or "after the Cold War" seem to have less such connotation (but still at least a little such connotation — else why refer to 9/11 or the Cold War at all?)

    However, there's another example where that seems to be reversed! Everyone living today was named post-Abraham Lincoln, whereas only a few people were named after him. :)

    (That's a bit of a red herring, of course — "named after" is a set phrase with a specific meaning that's not just a consequence of the individual meanings of "named" and "after".)

  49. Randy Alexander said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 12:33 am

    @Faldone: I think you're misunderstanding the analysis. If you read the two radio transcripts (cited in what is presently the 3rd comment), you might get a better sense of this.

    It took me a while to understand this as well, as traditional grammar's treatment of this was unfortunately too deeply etched in my brain.

    Traditional grammar treats in in "go in the water" as a preposition because it has an object, but in in "go in" as an adverb because it has no object.

    In the more sensible, perspective, both are prepositions because not only are they the same word, but they provide the same information and have the same function. Following this thinking, just as there are intransitive verbs (some verbs can't take objects), there are intransitive prepositions, like away.

    A fairly reliable test for prepositions is that you can modify them with right, just as you did in "the ship went right under". Compare this with "he went right home", or "I walked right away". Note: this test doesn't work with non-spatial prepositions, like of or because.

    My apologies for repeating what has been said, but I just want to clarify this because it seems many people have a hard time with it. And also I should mention that in both The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language and A Students Introduction to English Grammar (both by Huddleston and Pullum), I think this difference from traditional grammar is not emphasized loudly enough.

    In "head bush", bush is not a noun, it's a direction, like home or back. You can't say "head to bush", just like you can't say "head to home" or "head to back".

  50. Holly Jones said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 4:57 am

    Is it just me, or does it sound unnatural to use a definite article with 'post'?
    'Post the wash-out…' and 'Post the entitlement offer…' both sound awkward, making me think of posting letters. Seems more logical without 'the'.
    Just a thought.

  51. Sasha Volokh said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 5:17 am

    I, like some other commenters, am having trouble with defining a preposition. Is there a "standard" definition of a preposition? Wikipedia, for instance, says that prepositions have to introduce (or at least have) prepositional phrases, which would exclude things like "head home" or even "head in." On the one hand, I'm sympathetic to the view that "in" could be considered an intransitive preposition because, as someone said above, it's the same word as the preposition "in" and also conveys the same meaning. On the other hand, I'm also sympathetic to the view that "home" is the object of an understood preposition with an omitted article (or something similar), and that "in" is an adverb, much like "go there." Or is "there" also a preposition? But "there" is actually incapable of introducing a prepositional phrase…. So I, as a total layman, am confused, and am searching for a sensible definition of prepositions, and whether, under this sensible definition, there's overlap with other parts of speech, say adverbs ("in") or nouns ("there").

  52. Rachael said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    Craig: Oh, I see. Yes, you're right.

  53. Faldone said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    @ Randy Alexander.

    I don't think I'm misunderstanding the analysis. Part of it seems to be that a word can only be one part of speech in all its uses. Take home, for example. If it is a preposition in the line 'he went right home,' it is also a preposition in the phrase 'this is my home.' There is added confusion when you note that most, if not all, particles of phrasal verbs are also prepositions at their day jobs. In the phrase 'to run into someone', since you don't end up inside the 'someone' you can't really say that into is a preposition. As for saying you can't say 'head to bush' you have perhaps missed that I said that the definite article is also elided. IANAL* so I can't say why it is elided beyond saying that it just doesn't sound right. Sasha has a good question concerning the definition of preposition. My definition would be that it is a particle that does the work of a case marker. It indicates the relation between two nouns or between a noun and the rest of the sentence. This relation can be indicated in other ways, depending on the language. In English, for example, one can say, 'I gave him the book." In this case the relative jobs of the accusative and the dative are handled by word order. One can also say, 'I gave the book to him.' In reversing the order of the direct and indirect objects the preposition to is needed to indicate the dative. One other thing; the argument that since the preposition can be preceded by right then anything preceded by right must be a preposition sounds an awful lot like affirming the consequent, a popular logical fallacy.

    *I am not a linguist.

  54. egoiste said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    I'd consider "pre" a typical english abbreviation of "previous to"

    [(myl) This ex cathedra pronouncement is certainly in keeping with your pseudonym, but why should it matter to the rest of us what you consider, if you provide no evidence that this consideration has any foundation? ]

  55. Sasha Volokh said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 10:00 am

    Faldone — If a preposition is a particle that does the work of a case marker, indicating the relation between two nouns or between a noun and the rest of the sentence, what do we make of prepositions that aren't accompanied by prepositional phrases, like "he went home" or "he went away" or "he went in"? From reading your past comment, I see that your view is that these aren't prepositions at all, but either, I suppose, adverbs or nouns with elided prepositions.

    Now Randy Alexander says "in" should be a preposition here because (in addition to his argument about "right" and his argument about being the same word) he says it serves the same function. So I'd be interested in hearing an alternative, functional description of prepositions.

  56. bianca steele said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 10:18 am

    Nathan Myers: "My reason for agreeing with John Cowan about the path of "mod" via hackerdom is that mathematicians had it for centuries, but it didn't leak out until "we" got it."

    But that's not what John Cowan said. Here's what he wrote: I think the mathematicians caught the jargon use of modulo from the computer hackers, though admittedly in many cases these were one and the same.

    He is talking about "5 mod 3 is 2"; he gave no reason for a reader to think he had any other meaning of "modulo" in mind, nor that he was familiar with another meaning. This use of "modulo" was developed afaik in the middle of the twentieth century by mathematicians who were working out a theory that would eventually be used in computer science and telecommunications theory, but there was no computer science at the time. All of what we call "computer science" that existed at that time was in mathematics departments, done by mathematicians.

    He appears to be attributing the initial use of the word to the wrong people. It's so inexplicable that I'm sure the explanation I give above will only illustrate that I've missed the point.

  57. Faldone said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    @ Sasha: You can't just go in. You have to go in something. If it is not explicitly stated in the sentence under discussion it's going to be somewhere else in the larger context in which we find the bare sentence. 'In' is a preposition in your example, 'home' is not. 'Away', maybe, but probably not.

  58. Ken Brown said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 11:57 am

    Randy Alexander said 'In "head bush", bush is not a noun, it's a direction, like home or back. You can't say "head to bush", just like you can't say "head to home" or "head to back"'

    Er, but you can say "head to home" and lots of people do.

    FWIW the second Google hit for "head to home" a few minutes ago was "Injured Chinese tourists head to home" which sounds like perfectly standard English to me. I don't think it has any real difference in meaning from: "Injured Chinese tourists head home" or "Injured Chinese tourists head homewards" and I don't think that invalidates your suggestion that "home" can be a direction as well as a destination and so can be thought of as a preposition. But the ability to use "to" doesn't seem to be a clincher.

    Google is not a very good tool for looking at this usage as most of the high-rated hits seem to be adverts including the phrase "…head to Home Depot…" But at least some of them seem to use it in the sense I am thinkign of.

  59. Merri said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    IANAL either, but in 'he went home', isn't simply 'home' a lative complement, see e.g. Latin 'eo domum' ?
    If one has to give it (you see, not 'to it' ;-) a word type consistent with its English use, I'd vote for 'adverb', as it can be paradigmatically swtiched to 'away', 'abroad', …
    But it can also be seen as a prepositionless lative complement, like there are in many languages that own a lative case or its equivalent : Russian, Finnish, Basque, …

    Notice the original Dutch word 'thuis', meaning both 'home' and 'at home', and derived from 'huis' (the substantive 'home'), but how exactly ?

  60. Faldone said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

    If someone can articulate a definition of preposition that includes both what we normally think of as a preposition and these things like 'home', 'bush', 'north', and 'south' and clearly demonstrates that the transitive and intransitive prepositions have some common ground, I'll consider that I'm wrong.

  61. Randy said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

    Ken, try the following google:

    "head to home" -Depot

    The minus sign in front of a word searches for sites that do not contain that word.

  62. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 24, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

    @GKP: _Pace_ borrowed (I think) from Italian.
    No, from Latin. The common pronunciation is Italianate, like Church Latin. However, my dictionary gives two pronunciations, the Italianate one and also as a homophone of the surname Pacey.

  63. Saif said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 4:41 am

    English place names make liberal use of latin preporsitions: cum, juxta, super…

  64. speedwell said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 9:15 am

    A better-targeted Google search would be:

    "head to home" -"home depot"

    Yes, Google can cope with this. Specifically, it's asking Google, "find all the pages where the phrase "head to home" occurs but the phrase "home depot" doesn't.

  65. speedwell said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    What? I just found a ticket on my Internet surfboard for "exceptionally inept use of quotation marks," bummer.

  66. Aaron Davies said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 9:43 am

    @j. w. brewer: perhaps a clipping of "excluding" instead?

  67. Aaron Davies said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 9:45 am

    @merri: Romanes eunt domus!

  68. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    @Aaron: You've got a mistake in every word. Make it: Romani ite domum.

  69. Faldone said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    @Simon See The Life of Brian. The scene is a member of one of the anti-Roman groups scrawling the phrase Aaron quoted on a wall and being upbraided by a roman soldier for his atrocious grammar.

  70. John Cowan said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

    But that's not what John Cowan said. Here's what he wrote: "I think the mathematicians caught the jargon use of modulo from the computer hackers, though admittedly in many cases these were one and the same."

    He is talking about "5 mod 3 is 2″; he gave no reason for a reader to think he had any other meaning of "modulo" in mind, nor that he was familiar with another meaning.

    No, by "the jargon sense" I meant the sense illustrated in phrases like "modulo traffic". In the hacker linguistics community (which may consist only of me and Eric S. Raymond, but whatever), "jargon" is distinct from technical terminology. When I use "NMI" to mean "an external event which forces a CPU to execute a hardware interrupt routine irrespective of the state of the CPU", that is technical terminology. When I use it to mean "your SO dragging you away from the computer for immediate sexual activity", that is jargon.

    And of course the whole idea of above-the-waterline computer science and computer scientists is a very new one. When the great computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra got married in 1957, it was necessary for him to declare his profession — and the Dutch registrar refused to accept "computer scientist" as a legitimate line of work, forcing him to revert to "theoretical physicist", the subject in which he had actually gotten his degree. So lots of computer scientists would have called themselves mathematicians at the time, and many still do.

  71. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    @Faldone: Thanks for reminding me. I did once see The Life of Brian, and enjoyed it, but had forgotten that episode.

  72. Jens Fiederer said,

    April 19, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

    New?

    "Post meridian" seems to me to have been in use for a LONG time, although usually abbreviated.

  73. SA said,

    March 28, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    I see "post" as a preposition all the time, from Asian stock research analysts. It's very much jargon. I think they use it just because it's shorthand and they don't want to write "after" or "following."

  74. Preston said,

    September 8, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    I have been trying to use post as a new favorite preposition. but just used prior to a noun instead of a sentence. such as post Christmas, post holidays, I would still use "after" before a sentence, such as "after who do something."

  75. DD Whyte said,

    September 10, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    "Post Watergate" political changes is the first time I can think of this coming into extensive use as a preposition….

  76. Treesong said,

    January 23, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

    I didn't see anyone answer J.W. Brewer, so just for the record: 'a' is a preposition in phrases like 'ten cents a [per] dance' or 'eight days a week'.

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