I find Maureen Dowd’s article in November 24 NY-Times titled “But can they eat 50 eggs?”amusing. She compares the leadership and charm of character between President Obama and Robert Griffin III, the quarterback of the Washington Redskins in the article. But I was caught by the word, “a prewin slump,” which I’ve never heard of, in the following sentence:

"While Obama has developed an unnerving and enervating pattern of going into a prewin slump — as in New Hampshire and Texas in the 2008 primaries or the first debate with Mitt Romney — RGIII never allows his batteries to run down while he’s playing."

I thought it’s “pre-winning” meaning pre-victory, and I checked Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam-Webster online dictionaries as I always do before posting a question. None of them registers “Prewin” nor “Pre-win.” Google Ngram neither shows any incidence of “Prewin” and “Pre-win.”

What does “Prewin” slump mean? Is this a well-received English noun or adjective, or Dowd’s customary creative coinage?

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    @tchrist: 'received' isn't obviously understatement like 'received pronunciation' for 'accepted standard'? – Mitch Nov 27 '12 at 3:36
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    Yoichi, you must realize by now that, with almost every example of something that you don't understand from Maureen Dowd, she makes up stuff a lot. She makes it up in a way that is very punny and depends a lot on cultural context. Five years from now, we'll have no idea what she's talking about. This example though is an obvious (to a native speaker) neologism. It would have been easier to understand if she had written it as 'pre-win'. By the way 'punny' is not really a word. Except for maybe Maureen Dowd and the crowd that does the Saturday NYT xword puzzle. In pen. – Mitch Nov 27 '12 at 3:39
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    All that's done here was to drop the hyphen, as is the trend today. Many more hyphenated phrases are going to appear "integrated" like this -- be prepared for more surprises. – Kris Nov 27 '12 at 4:53
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    @tchrist. I used the word “received English” in association of ‘received pronunciation.’ Perhaps I should have called it ‘accepted’ or ‘standard English as you suggest. I was simply influenced by the statement of John Honey in his book, “Does Accent Matters – The Pygmalion Factor” to the effect that “The accent you immediately associate with when you hear the word, ‘standard English’ is called ‘Received pronunciation – RP.’ It is the word that reflects a pretty classic nuance of ‘received’ being used and accepted widely in the form of ‘received opinion’ and ‘received wisdom.’ – Yoichi Oishi Nov 27 '12 at 10:27
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    @Yoichi: Several of your questions ask whether some unusual term (often as used by Maureen Dowd!) is "well-received". It's perhaps a little uncommon, but perfectly good English (esp. in a language contexts). There's no obvious reason (apart from established idiomatic usage) why we tend use that well- prefix unless it's in one of those "fixed" expressions pairing up with, for example, opinion, pronunciation, wisdom, grammar. In short, your usage isn't incorrect, imho. Just a little uncommon. – FumbleFingers Nov 27 '12 at 14:37

It just means that the slump happened before the win. It's probably a reversal of the post-[noun] trope, as in postpartum depression, the slump in mood that many mothers experience after giving birth.

The prefixes pre- and post- attach to many nouns easily, and therefore this is a commonplace. You can have a post-victory party, a prenuptial agreement, pre- or post-prandial (before or after dinner) drinks, and so on. So while you can't necessarily find prewin in an NGram search, it's instantly recognizable and understandable.

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  • Postpartum has no hyphen in American English according to MW3UDE. – user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 2:01
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    I do too. But even when I know a word isn't hyphenated, e.g., the medical term uninephrectomy (surgical removal of one kidney), I'll sometimes add it if I had trouble reading it the first time. I think it should be single nephrectomy because there are too many other words that begin with unin.... – user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 2:16
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    Answering for Robusto, 'pre-win' is a new word. It makes sense and is only slightly infelicitous. Not every possible prefix/word pair is listed in a dictionary. – Mitch Nov 28 '12 at 1:11
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    Oishi-san: Sorry to be late getting back to you. What @Mitch said is right about the dictionaries not being able to list all possible prefix/word combinations. The rules for hyphenation are squirmy: kind of like trying to pick up little blobs of mercury with 箸. But a general rule is to favor no hyphen unless it would join two vowels in a strange way. "Prepaid ticket" would be fine, but a "pre-owned car" would be preferable to a "preowned" one; similarly, "pre-attached" would be preferable to "preattached" (you would start to read it as "preat" rhyming with "wheat"). – Robusto Nov 28 '12 at 3:31
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    The reason why "prewin" doesn't work orthographically, Oishi-san, is because it would be pronounced aloud with both syllables stressed, but in writing it as it is, we wouldn't expect both syllables to be stressed. If someone didn't know what Dowd meant, they would mispronounce it, probably. It should be hyphenated if it must be used at all. – Ryan Haber Nov 29 '12 at 7:27

The closed compound prewin is not likely to gain currency in writing because it is badly formed. At first glance, its pronunciation is unclear. Following typical English phonetic patterns, is not clearly to be pronounced as she certainly intends it. Pre-win would have been better.

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  • The question wasn't about your opinion on Ms Dowd's writing, still less on her general character. – Colin Fine Nov 28 '12 at 16:22
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    I never mention Ms. Dowd's character, or even say anything that could be construed to reflect upon her character. "Prewin" is an ugly compound and fails the basic test of immediately recognizable pronunciation. – Ryan Haber Nov 28 '12 at 17:09
  • @ColinFine, I edited my response to limit myself to the question itself, and set aside my knee jerk reaction to the creator of the word. – Ryan Haber Nov 28 '12 at 22:46
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    I personally find Ms. Dowd's prose to be extremely purple and am perpetually put out when perusing it. – Hellion Nov 28 '12 at 22:57

Its a play on "Pre-Game", "Pre-Season" etc. which are often used in athletic contexts. Here she is describing/comparing a politician's performance with an athletes, and, doing so using a style and idiom normally used by sports reporters.

Clever but a little bit subtle for someone who doesn't read the sports pages regularly.

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  • Hmm... Maybe. But "pre-" is a pretty common prefix and is a part of lots of compounds. – Ryan Haber Nov 29 '12 at 7:19

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