Prior Analytics

In terms of ugly, pretentious phrases used by members of the Guardian-reading community, the “signature” phrase is undoubtedly “in terms of”. But there’s another phrase habitually deployerized by Guardianistas that is perhaps even worse in terms of its core Guardianisticity. To get to it, let’s first engage issues around the title of this post: “Prior Analytics”. I took it from the title of a book on logic by Aristotle, Prior Analytics, known in Latin as Analytica Priora.

Are you surprised to learn that Prior Analytics has a companion called Posterior Analytics, or Analytica Posteriora? No, of course you aren’t. “Prior” and “posterior” are high-falutin’ words that go together: when the first appears, the second naturally follows. And you might think that this obvious pairing would alert Guardianistas to the ugliness and pretension of another of their signature phrases, “prior to”:

• Foreign press warn over dangers of new UK media laws prior to Leveson report — headline in The Observer, 24xi2012
• “Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless.” — The Great Gary Younge in The Observer, 6xi2011
• “Prior to a prang outside Tesco which, for insurance purposes, wasn’t actually my fault”… — The Great Zoë Williams in The Guardian, 8ii2005

Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use. But “prior to”? It’s almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”. I say “almost always” because you can make an exception for a technical usage like “Existence is logically prior to essence.” But that’s a rare exception, so I repeat: “prior to” is almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”.

And guess what? You’ll find this in the Guardian and Observer style guide under “P”:

prior to, previous to

   the word you want is “before” (see Guardian and Observer style guide: P)

Guardianistas should be able to realize that for themselves, because “prior to” naturally suggests “posterior to”. However, even Guardianistas don’t habitually say “posterior to” instead of “after”. Even a Guardianista’s ugliness-and-pretension-o-meter is tripped by “posterior to”. But only in the flesh, as it were. Guardianistas are apparently incapable of two-step logic: first, noticing that “prior to” rather than “before” naturally suggests “posterior to” rather than “after”; second, deciding that because “posterior to” is ugly and pretentious, they shouldn’t use “prior to” either.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

2 thoughts on “Prior Analytics

  1. Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use.

    What times should it be used? Just in mathematical senses, or are there more?

    • What times should it be used? Just in mathematical senses, or are there more?

      I don’t think it should be used while so many people are misusing it. I never use it seriously. But sometimes Orwell uses it in a way that’s okay, because “terms” more or less has a literal meaning:

      When he speaks of human progress it is usually in terms of moral progress – men growing better […]

      A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. — Fifty Essays

      But the second one could have been “…thinks solely, or mainly, of competitive prestige”. These uses by Orwell are definitely bad:

      Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. → in pence per hour

      There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case. → in money

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