OALD: 4. anticipate somebody (doing something) (formal)
= to do something before it can be done by somebody else

Etymonline: anticipate (v.) = 1530s, "to cause to happen sooner,"
a back-formation from anticipation, or else from Latin anticipatus,
past participle of anticipare "take (care of) ahead of time,"
literally "taking into possession beforehand,"
from ante "before" (see ante) + capere "to take" (see capable).

Later "to be aware of (something) coming at a future time" (1640s). Used in the sense of "expect, look forward to" since 1749, but anticipate has an element of "prepare for, forestall" that should prevent its being used as a synonym for expect. ...

Please beware that I ask about only this definition unique to anticipate as bolded above. The use of the others that overlap with 'expect' are decried on p 53, Plain Words, 2014, by Ernest Gowers, revised by Rebecca Gowers.

I already tolerate and so ask NOT about definitions, below which I instead purpose to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. What are right ways of interpreting or rationalizing this meaning, in order to intuit or naturalise as far as possible and to help me remember?

My guess: How does to take something before imply 'to forestall'? The effect is unclear to me.
If X take[s] all the kohlrabi before Y, then the effect on Y is ambiguous:
If Y likes kohlrabi, then from Y's perspective, X did forestall Y.
If Y abhors kohlrabi, then from Y's perspective, X did NOT forestall Y. Instead, X helped Y.

Footnote: I purposely chose the peculiar kohlrabi to illustrate my dilemma. OED didn't help.

  • It seems a very natural shift in meaning to me. The word prevent underwent a very similar shift in meaning. – Peter Shor Mar 17 '15 at 17:44
  • @PeterShor Alas, the shift still eludes me. I'll read about prevent. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Mar 17 '15 at 18:23
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    I don't think "anticipate" has even the connotation "forestall." – wys1wyg Mar 17 '15 at 18:33
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    @wys1wyg: The OED has the definition forestall, and one citation where it sort of seems to mean forestall: 1704 T. Brown Table Talk Whenever he met a Creditor, never gave him leave to Dun him first, but was sure to anticipate him. Well Faith, honest Friend, says he, I am to blame but thou shalt have thy Money next Week. Note that this citation is 300 years old. – Peter Shor Mar 18 '15 at 1:21
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    And it's quite possible to find citations in Google books in the 18th century where it means to forestall. For example, It is therefore wiser, safer, cheaper to anticipate this movement by helping the Scotch Lords to drive every Frenchman out of Scotland. or Animated with zeal, and inflamed with resentment, they not only prepared for their own defence, but resolved, by some bold action, to anticipate the schemes of their enemies. This meaning is much rarer (if it exists at all) in recent years. – Peter Shor Mar 18 '15 at 1:41

Paraphrasing your example:

X likes kohlrabi and knows (expects) that Y is going to take all of them tomorrow, so he decides to take them before (tonight, for example) and by doing so he forestalls Y.

so, by taking a resource, advantageous position, etc. before your competitor does, you are forestalling him. You are expecting what he is going to do, but in addition you are reacting in advance to his expected actions.


Your bold text only claims that anticipate has an element of forestall that sets it apart from the meaning of expect.

This element is displayed thusly:

In anticipation of downvotes, I have included this example of its forestalling nature.

When you expect something to happen, there is no hint of implied action on your part. When you anticipate something, on the other hand, there is a subtle injection of action.

I expect my opponent to swing his sword.
But do I take action?

I anticipate my opponent swinging his sword.
I do so by taking action.


Anticipate is a bit different from expect. Anticipate can imply a combined sense of expectation, calculation and strategy. If that strategy involves countering what might occur, then it serves to forestall or prevent.

In the game of chess, for example, an expert player does not just have expectations about the opponent's next and future moves. Anticipation involves considering what possible moves are likely by the opponent and determining how to best counter those moves. All of this is done with an objective in mind, which, in this case, is to gain advantage over the opponent and forestall or prevent the opponent from gaining any advantage. The resulting strategy from such anticipation might be to move in a way that thwarts the opponents likely moves, forestalling any chance of him gaining an advantage.

The same can be said in making war plans and business plans, in negotiating to get the best price on a car or to win (or not lose badly) a law suit.

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