“Sorry,” Jess said just after her window appeared in our Zoom chat. “My meeting was preponed and so I was busy postparing.”
“You what was what and you what now?” Daryl said.
Behind him, Margot said “Her meeting was postponed and she was busy preparing.”
“No…” Jess said, with that you-did-not-get-that-right dip in intonation. “My meeting was preponed. You know, moved earlier.”
“Oh, yes,” I said, “that’s apparently a common term in India.”
“It is,” Jess said, “but they’re not the only people who have meetings moved earlier on them.”
“We usually just say moved up,” Daryl said.
“And you tell me whether that means moved earlier or later,” Jess said.
“It’s simple,” Margot said.
“Deceptively simple,” Jess said.
“What do you mean by that?” Daryl said, apparently speaking to Jess but turning to look back at Margot as he did.
“Exactly,” Jess said.
“So your meeting was preponed,” I said, to get the conversation back on the rails. “A perfectly reasonable word. Postponed is ‘put later’; preponed is ‘put earlier’.”
Daryl was looking up data as we spoke. “Been in the language more than a century,” he said, “and not just in India. In the US and England too.”
“Because it’s obvious,” Jess said. “And, obviously, if you were supposed to prepare for a meeting, but as you were about to start preparing you got a message that the meeting was moved to, say, five minutes from that very moment, you won’t be able to prepare.”
“Prepare from præ- and parare,” I said, trying to contribute, “‘make ready before’.”
“So you make ready after,” Jess said. “You postpare. Obviously you have to BS your way through the meeting, but if it has deliverables or required background knowledge, there are things you’ll still need to do.”
Arlene appeared behind Jess. “Sort of like doing the readings after the lecture,” she said. Arlene was more recently graduated from university than some of the rest of us.
“Exactly right,” Jess said. “You pretend you know what they’re talking about, and you fill in the blanks later.” Arlene wandered off screen again.
“Catching up, you mean,” Margot said as she passed behind Daryl.
“Postpare is a perfectly cromulent word,” Jess said, with a little smile. Needling Margot was one of her favourite sports.
Daryl was tapping on his device with the same look on his face as Thomas Dolby had at the Grammys when his keyboard was producing no noise. “It’s not in there,” he said.
“Postpare?” Jess said.
“Not in Oxford or even Wiktionary.”
“Try Urban Dictionary,” I said. I knew – because I had just looked – that it had an entry for postpare from 2010.
“Urban Dictionary is not authoritative,” Margot said, busying herself with something or other.
“I guess they’ll just have to catch up,” I said.
“Well, we’ll have to catch up with you later,” Margot said. She turned to Daryl. “Dinner’s on.” She continued bustling back and forth in the background.
I checked the time. “I haven’t even started cooking,” I said. “I should, though.”
Jess looked off screen. “Hey, Lene. Everyone’s having dinner. Where’s ours?”
Arlene reappeared. “Just put it in the oven.”
“You knew when I was going to be done the meeting.”
“Did I, though?” Arlene smiled angelically. “Sometimes these things run long. I didn’t want it to be overpared.”
Jess looked back at the camera. “I think I’m overmatched.”
“I think I’d better preheat the oven,” I said. I knew this would nettle Margot, who considers the pre in preheat to be unnecessary.
I was not disappointed. She stopped in her tracks and glared towards the camera. “Why don’t you just postheat it? Eat your food first, cook it later.” And then she resumed her bustling.
“Oh, you’ve worked for my company, have you?” Jess said. She turned back to Arlene, who was just off screen. “What are we having?”
Arlene leaned in. “Corn pones with pears.”
Daryl stood up from his chair. “Sounds pre-post-erous. See you later!” He waved and disconnected.
“See you sooner!” Jess said, and then she, too, waved and blinked out.