Wednesday 3 December 2008

On a meeting meeting

A correspondent writes to say he has encountered this sentence: there'll be a pre-council meeting for the monthly assembly this Wednesday at 9:00 a.m and wonders what pre-council means. He can't find it in dictionaries.

It is an odd usage, indeed. But it's common enough. Here's an example I just found on the Web:

The City Council of the City of Irondale, Alabama met in Pre-Council Session at the City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on the 2nd day of September, 2008. The Council reviewed each item on the Agenda and decided that the following item should be added to the Agenda: Item #3 Consider Resolution No. 2008R58 to define boundaries for Downtown Redevelopment Authority area. The City Council then met in Regular Session at the City Hall of said City on the 2nd day of September, 2008, at 7:00 p.m., the regular time and place for holding such meetings.

So clearly it means 'a council meeting which takes place before the main council meeting'. It seems to be shorthand for pre-council meeting meeting. People don't like that kind of repetition. Compare PIN number, which I don't suppose would ever be said personal identification number number.

So we'll never hear or read a pre-council meeting meeting? Wrong. I just looked in Google and found three instances. The first uses hyphens to get round the awkwardness.

Apr. 10--So what will it be -- roller-skate, ice skate or cheapskate? And in what order? Columbus Council will ponder the possibilities Tuesday in an 8 a.m. pre-council-meeting meeting in a little conference room on the north side of its plaza-level chambers in the Government Center.

But the contributor to a forum discussion in Nebraska is evidently worried by it:

Thanks to all that made it to the pre-council meeting meeting (huh?) last weekend to help get organized, as well as those that made it to the city council meeting last night.

And in another American blog we get:

monday - pre council meeting meeting. hmmm, i need an explanation for that man.

So, just one example without a comment. Doesn't look as if it's going to catch on.


Unknown said...

An even closer analogy than your "PIN number" example is "a pre-AGM meeting" [annual general meeting], of which there are several hundred examples on the Web. There are even examples of that rarest of conclaves, a "pre-EGM meeting" [extraordinary general meeting]!

twaza (@wassabeee on twitter) said...

Isn't "pre-council meeting" short for "pre-council meeting council meeting"?

It would parse like this: (pre-(council meeting) council meeting).

Anonymous said...

FWIW, there are substantial numbers of ghits for workarounds such as 'pre-assembly meeting' and 'pre-meeting conference'. I imagine that most writers blanch and shudder upon meeting meeting meeting*, then reach for the internalized thesaurus...

*I can't match the '11 Had' record here, alas.

Anonymous said...

Contributing to this discussion of "meeting" I would like to add the following aspect: how to invite someone to a meeting he is expected/obliged to attend. In German there are two distinct words: Einladung (you can come= and Ladung (you must come). In English you have the word invitation. Does the word vitation exist if you must attend?

DC said...

Afraid not. I guess that would have to be 'summons'.

Anonymous said...

There are many other example which can be expanded to give an odd result; to say someone 'reneged on a promise' means what? ... to 'go back on a promise promise'?