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"Prepend" is seeing a fair amount of use, both in programmer jargon and elsewhere.
Its use seems to come from a desire to create a word that is a direct parallel to "append."

However, such a word already exists in "prefix."

They seem to need to be used differently:

To dial an outside line, prepend a 9 to your number.

versus

To dial an outside line, prefix the number with 9.

Are there any cases where "prefix" cannot be used in place of "prepend"? Any other insights into this word and its origins?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd say that the main reason that prepend is used is that it "sounds" like the reverse of append. According to Code Complete, you should have "opposites" for each method on an object, and they should "sound opposite". That's about it. Think of it like the British having to use American English while programming - they do it just because it's an established convention.

About "cases where prepend cannot be replaced by prefix": There are none, but as I said, it's a matter of convention.

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I already had upvoted this your answer but now I would have reversed it for incorrect and misleading answer though I cannot change it. Cf. my question "If prepend is not part of English, why ther's no postpend, subpend? and who introduces them?" –  Gennady Vanin Novosibirsk Feb 19 '11 at 11:53
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vgv8: That doesn't contradict my answer. There's no postpend and subpend because you already have append which is a valid word, is widely used, and "sounds opposite". I've "edited" my answer, so you can go ahead and reverse your upvote if you wish. –  aviraldg Feb 19 '11 at 12:30
    
This did refer to your 'it "sounds" like the reverse of append' because append does not have any opposites and you apparently just do not know its meaning –  Gennady Vanin Novosibirsk Feb 19 '11 at 13:31
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@vgv8: if append means to add to the end then it has an opposite: prepend. if append means to add then it has an opposite: take. –  Matt Эллен Feb 19 '11 at 15:43
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vgv8: Adding on to Matt's comment, append in programming contexts usually refers to add to the end, so prepend is a valid opposite. –  aviraldg Feb 19 '11 at 16:25
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To prepend means (as reported from the NOAD):

  • (jargon, computing) to prefix an expression with another.
  • (rare) to premeditate; to weigh up mentally.

The meaning of to prefix is:

  • add something at the beginning as a prefix or introduction.
  • add a prefix or introduction to something.

I searched for prepend in the Corpus of Contemporary American and the British National Corpus, but I didn't find any sentences containing that word. I think prepend is only used in a specific context, and that it cannot replace prefix in all the cases.

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There's quite a few of both definitions in Google Books. The earliest I found of the computing jargon is in the 1978 Foundations of Secure Computation: "The sender can prepend the copy of the key encrypted in the receiver's secret key to the mail before transmission." –  Hugo Dec 22 '11 at 10:16
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Aside from Aviral Dasgupta's answer, "prefix" feels like a noun (despite its etymology), so using it the way you suggest feels like an awkward verbing. It also suggests the usage of "suffix" as a verb, which feels like an even more awkward verbing.

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