I’m probably going to wish I hadn’t written about this word.
It’s not a word for a pregnant egret. It has nothing to do with pre-greeting either. Also, you won’t find it in Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary or even Wiktionary. But I didn’t make it up. It’s really far too obvious a coinage to have languished to the present day unstruck. Its earliest entry in Urban Dictionary is from 2006. And its top Google search result is an entry in CollinsDictionary.com – as a “new word suggestion” from 2016.
What does it mean? Well, what do you think it means? The definition Collins has is “Regretting an action before you have even done it”; the Urban Dictionary one is “The feeling of regretting something you’re about to do anyway.” It’s a feeling I think we all know, some of us much too well, and many of us experiencing it more often at the end of December. It’s a feeling probably mostly absent from the “Hold my beer” set – that is, people who attempt to one-up someone else’s extremely questionable act; they are sure to be thick with regret after the act, but if they were likely to pregret it they would more likely convert that pregret to caution, hesitation, second thought, continuing to hold their own beers and not leaping into action. But I think adult humans who have not experienced pregret are very few and far between, split mostly between the utterly reckless and the extremely deliberate or cautious. It surely deserves the word.
Nonetheless, pregret is not widely used. I searched for it in vain in the various databases at English-corpora.org. And while Google says it gets 63,000 hits, pretty much the whole first page is definitions of it. To this point, it seems to be a word that is only used when it is introduced and defined – in other words, people think “here’s a clever word” but no one is using it in conversation, really.
But that could change. I’m sure that if a character in a popular movie or TV show were to use it in conversation, it could catch on. Perhaps even someone famous on social media could be a vector. In the meantime, though, nothing stops any of us from using it. The sense is so clear and easily taken up, it may well be introduced without definition: “Yes, I agreed to go visit my uncle, the one with the… opinions. I told my mom I would, so I will, but I’m pregretting it.” We do have other words with similar meanings – dread comes to mind – but pregret has a different mood and shade of meaning, and it’s clever-sounding, and anyway if you don’t like adding words to your vocabulary why are you even here reading this?
You may be wondering, if there’s regret and now pregret, what on earth gret is, and how we’re doing it again when we regret. In fact, regret came (first as a verb, then as a noun) from the French verb regretter, which uses re- as an intensifying prefix (in other words, meaning not ‘again’ but ‘doubly so’ or ‘very’ – as in resplendent). The gretter was borrowed into French from a Germanic root – so, yes, it came from Germanic into French and then back into English, rather than being directly descended. The direct descendent of the Germanic root in English is greet, but not the greet that means, for example, ‘say hello’; no, this one means ‘lament, weep’. It also has descendants in other Germanic languages, such as Swedish gråta, meaning the same thing.
So we could say that pregretting is greeting an upcoming event knowing that you will greet for it afterwards.