Printable Version
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.

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 today's Good Word by adding the prefix pre- "before" to possess, a word that it backformed from possession, which it copied from Latin possession(n) "seizing, occupying, taking". This word is based on possessus, the past participle of possidere "seize, occupy, take", an old compound made up of pos- "(as) master" + sedere "to sit". Pos- is the combining form of PIE poti-s "strong, master, husband", which we also see in the Latinate borrowings potent and potential today. In Persian it emerged as pasha. Sed-, of course, appears in many words, including English set, sit, and sedentary. (Today we must all be grateful for the potent vocabulary of Katy Brezger, who suggested this word in our lexical marketplace, the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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