I read this sentence in the Steve Jobs Biography about his biological mother

She was primed to start a new life.

What does 'prime' mean in this sentence?

  • 1
    See definitions for prime as a verb. – aedia λ Dec 27 '11 at 21:48

The verb prime has several meanings, but the sense here is that she was prepared, or made ready, to start a new life.

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  • +1. I'm going to elaborate in another answer, only because I haven't yet figured out how to put links into comments. – T.E.D. Dec 27 '11 at 19:26

This is sort of a metaphor off of how old fashioned firearms required primer in order to fire. Without the primer, the weapon cannot fire.

So saying something or someone is "primed" is essentially a metaphor for saying "they are as prepared as a gun that has already been primed".

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  • That sounds very apocryphal... If etymonline.com is your source, they also have "to prime a pump (c.1840)", and "Priming 'first coat of paint' is from c.1600". I did a quick google books search, and those are the only three usages I can find in the 19th century - I think it's more reasonable to assume that weapon priming, pump priming, and all other forms of "initial preparation for ongoing reaction" (later biological, psychological, etc) stem directly from the paint usage - or that other uses of the word didn't make it into published material? (how does one verify this? I'd love to know!) – Tao Dec 27 '11 at 20:07
  • Etymology as of 1724: books.google.es/… references to paint and powder, so I'm probably wrong – Tao Dec 27 '11 at 20:31

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