• prepossess •
Pronunciation: pree-pê-zes • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To preoccupy obsessively, to the exclusion of other thoughts. 2. To prejudice beforehand, to create a bias in advance of something.
Notes: Today's is yet another word (like gull) that has been upstaged by one of its derivations: its adjective, unprepossessing "unimpressive, unremarkable". The meaning of this adjective has even drifted a bit off track; so, let us pledge ourselves to salvaging the verb it is derived from this year, too.
In Play: Prepossess implies a stronger preoccupation than preoccupy itself, "Maureen was so prepossessed by plans for her wedding, she forgot the rehearsal." You can also now separate prejudice in advance from prejudice in general, "The defense lawyers attempted to prepossess the jury pool by releasing their version of the crime to the press before the jury was selected."
Word History: English created this word by adding the prefix pre- "before" to a word that it nabbed from Old French, possesser "to possess". Possesser is the natural descendant of Latin possidere, whose past participle is possess-. It was an old compound made up of pos- "as master" + sedere "to sit". Pos- is a prefixal variant of the ancient root poti "powerful, lord", which we also see in potent and potential today. In Persian is emerged as pasha. Sed-, of course, appears in many words, including English set and sit. (Today we must all be grateful for the potent vocabulary of Katy Brezger, who suggested this word in our verbal marketplace, the Alpha Agora.)
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Speaking of upstaging, it is interesting to note that the derivative «prepossessing» seems to be used rather more often than the verb itself, an impression which is confirmed by a Google search, which turns up five times as many websites for the former than for the latter (a similar search results in almost 50 % more hits for «unprepossessing» than for «prepossessing», which just goes to show what the world has come to)....
- M. Henri Day
- Grand Panjandrum
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