Although I searched fairly extensively, I couldn't find any references as to the origins of pre-plan. According to Online Etymology Dictionary, pre-arranged and prearranged have existed since 1792 but it fails to mention the history of pre-plan.

Dictionary.com which is a reliable source for dates and examples of usages, doesn't even list the verb. Instead it re-directs the reader to plan

Oxford Dictionaries (which rarely provides the origins of words) says

[WITH OBJECT] (usually as adjective pre-planned)
Plan in advance: Safety and security of supply demand that they operate to stringent standards and create a mindset that is preconditioned towards conformity and pre-planned behaviour

Collins Dictionary notes the one word solution:

But then he added, `We'll let the company treat us, and I'll tell you all about how to preplan and prefinance your mother's funeral.

  • Exactly how old is this "corporate speak" expression?
  • Is it really derived from the world of business?
  • Has its meaning evolved or changed during the years?
  • 3
    A word like "pre-plan" (with or without the hyphen) has no "origin". Taking a word like "plan" and adding a simple prefix like "pre" is ordinary everyday English -- it's basically the same as stringing words together. The only "origin" is that, prior to "corporate America/UK" (ca 1900), there was little need for such a term.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 12, 2015 at 13:08
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    @Mari-LouA - Yep, and that (earlier) date would correspond to the use of the term "prearranged marriage", et al. Not exactly corporate-speak. Keep in mind that such sources are merely documenting what can be found in a sample of 0.001% of the literature of the time, with no sample at all of the spoken language. Usages could slip through the cracks for decades, if not centuries.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 12, 2015 at 13:16
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    Combining a common prefix with a common word is not an earth-shaking event. No Act of Congress is needed to do it, and there is no public notice made that it has been done. I probably several times a week do such a combination that could be "the first" (since I love to combine words like that), but I wouldn't expect my uses to be documented for posterity.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 12, 2015 at 13:23
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    It undoubtedly comes from the use of pre-planned as an adjective to designate certain phenomena. Something that was pre-planned was not accidental, and was not accomplished on the spur of the moment, but rather was deliberate and intentional. The pre- part of that is to distinguish a complete plan existing before action is started from the kind of plan one improvises. Feb 15, 2015 at 20:28
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    As I said, the participial adjective is the likely source; in most verbal uses there's no reason for the prefix, so it's not one that's likely to appear ex nihilo unless there's some cultural freight it's carrying. Like business jargon. Feb 15, 2015 at 20:38

4 Answers 4


The two earliest instances of preplan/preplanned/preplanning (with or without a hyphen) that a Google Books search finds are from the pen of Robert Southey, who was Poet Laureate of England for the last thirty years of his life (from 1813 to 1843). The first instance is from a letter by Robert Southey to the Reverend Neville White, dated February 19, 1824, reprinted in Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey (1856):

My dear Neville,

Here I am, once more at my desk, by my own fire-side. My movements were all punctually performed, as they had been pre-planned. I reached home on Sunday morning, without impediment or mishap of any kind, and, thank God, found all well. Some little time is required before I can fairly get into joint again, after so complete a dislocation ; and I bring back with me a formidable accumulation of letters, which followed and found me whithersoever I went, and which it was not possible for me to answer during so hurried a mode of life.

The next is a quotation from Robert Southey's "Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society," in a review of that work in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (October 1829):

Montesinos [a character in Southey's dialogue, speaking to Thomas More]. Like the whole fabric of our society, it [the manufacturing system in contemporaneous England] has been the growth of circumstances, not a system pre-planned, foreseen, and diliberately chosen. Such as it is, we have inherited it, or rather have fallen into it, and must get out of it as well as we can. We must do our best to remove its evils, and to mitigate them while they last, and to modify and reduce it till only so much remains as is indispensable for the general good.

From "Shakespeare in Modern Thought," in North American Review (October 1857):

The events and characters of a drama may be very amusing and interesting, may be morally and spiritually edifying ; but unless they proceed from some common point of view, some pervading, centralizing principle, and so are related essentially to one another, having a common life, they do not belong to the domain of rt. There is undoubtedly, such a universal "central idea" for each living man. The dramatic poet, like a presiding deity, surveys all the details, and holds in his hands the threads of connection and relation, so that his representation is no patchwork of circumstances and capricious succession of words and deeds, but a regular and pre-planned figure, woven out of many different and variously colored threads, each of which has its place in the finished product, and is essential to a complete embodiment of the ideal pattern.

From "Long Vacation," in London Society (January 1868):

Then came preparation, packing, and departure. One by one the crew broke away ; cordially we shook hands, and pre-planned réunions in town, at Lord's, in the Highlands, and elsewhere.

From John Scott Russell, Systematic Technical Education for the English People (1869) [the same year as the New York Court of Appeals Decision cited in bib's answer]:

But the growing youth, who has everything to learn, and no help, how is he to find fit education and training for his work in life? For the ordinary English lad, education must be pre-planned, prepared, brought home to him, to his father's home, to his master's workshop. He cannot seek education. We must seek him.

The origin of the word preplan thus appears to rest not with an anonymous twentieth-century purveyor of business jargon, but with a nineteenth-century poet and litterateur; and other early instances of the phrase show its being taken up in the fields of literary criticism, memoir, pedagogy, and law. The modern notion of convening a preplanning meeting before the planning meeting to work out what will be covered and (perhaps) decided at the latter may be a creature of corporate or government bureaucracy; but preplanning itself evidently was not born in a conference room.

With a confirmed first occurrence Google Books search results of 1824, preplan actually beats the earliest confirmed match for the phrase "plan ahead"—which has its own problem with face-value redundancy, and which has a confirmed first occurrence of 1848 in Google Books search results. I see very little change in the sense of preplanned from its meaning as used by Southey in the 1820s and its meaning as given by Oxford and Collins and quoted in Mari-Lou A's question.

  • Is diliberately a typo or is it in the original text?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 18, 2015 at 9:01
  • @MariLouA: It's in the original. The link in the article title preceding the quoted excerpt takes you to the page in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine that contains the excerpt. Nineteen times out of twenty, of course, a typo of that sort in one of my answers will have been accidentally introduced by me. I know that standard practice is to use "[sic]," but I try to provide links to the original instead.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 18, 2015 at 18:33

The term preplan goes back to at least the 19th century in the US. A cursory ngram search reveals several examples from the late 1800s

In a decision of the New York State Court of Appeals from 1869, in considering a plot of a son against his mother, the Court used the phrase

under preplanned, designed false pretenses?

and later

Legrand then had not imagined George would preplan to testify falsely

The connotation suggests plotting.

In a play, Sejanus: a tragedy by A. Arteton, from 1876 had a character ask

Why did not his daring soul, on being check'd, preplan that Rome should be fir'd and destroy'd

The tone here is more foresee

It then appears in the early 20th century in places such as the School Journal from 1909

how results are affected by the presence or absence of forethought, preplanning or fearless freedom ...

This example seems to suggest diligent preparation.

None of these are classic business contexts.

  • This is a good answer. It's a pity this question, and your answer hasn't attracted more attention. What to do? Place yet another bounty?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 12, 2015 at 17:13
  • @Mari-LouA I think the question is interesting since the term seems to be internally redundant (can you post-plan?) and the derivation is puzzling. Corporate-speak was a good guess, and I still don't have a handle on how it started.
    – bib
    Feb 12, 2015 at 17:23

You either plan or you don't. Planning is always before a premeditated action. 'pre-planning' is a bogus term that actually means nothing, it was made up.


There are similar words which are often attributed to Indian English (some debate about Occidental English vs Oriental English). Pre-plan, Pre-pone etc are such Indian variants which are often to 'emphasize'. It is to take 'pre' vs 'post' for 'before' and 'after' and use in other English words as a qualifier or 'integrated adjective'. For eg, you should do planning is converted to you should do 'lot of pre'planning.


To add the link for 'prepone' - http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-now-entire-world-can-prepone-like-indians-only-1353503

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    I don't believe that pre-plan has Indian origins. Evidence (Ngram link posted by @Frank but now deleted) seems to suggest that pre-plan was being used in the late 19th century.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 12, 2015 at 12:59
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    The question is about pre-plan. Please search through EL&U's database and find a question which asks about prepone. Here: english.stackexchange.com/search?q=prepone
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 12, 2015 at 13:24
  • I tend to think people used pre-plan like 'prepare' and 'plan'. BTW, Ngram does not refer to usage of English word by non-Indians alone, does it? Feb 12, 2015 at 13:30
  • Google Ngram I believe records all publications printed in a country. It doesn't matter who the authors were, if their work was printed/published in the US or the UK, Google will have a record. (That's my understanding).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 12, 2015 at 13:33
  • Ngram is interesting because if we plot preplanning with five year plan, you can see similar lines almost going together and in particular 'ascent' during mid 1940s. India got independence in 1947! Just plot with awesome, you understand preplanning is hardly in usage and even if some use it, it is a non-issue. Feb 12, 2015 at 13:56

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