Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mind your words ...

... Language clinic: to prey is not to predate.


  1. Actually, at least according to the OED, predate can also be used in the sense of 'to prey':

    1. trans. To act as a predator of; to catch and eat (prey). Chiefly in pass.

    1941 [implied in PREDATED adj.]. 1956 Proc. Royal Soc. B. 145 313 Many larvae..were heavily predated by cuckoos. 1977 New Scientist 27 Oct. 220/3 The eggs of many species of frogs are predated by many species of vertebrates and invertebrates. 1994 Nature Conservancy May-June 18/2 People, who scare turtles, also bring litter, which..also brings more raccoons to predate nests. 2002 J. COHEN & I. STEWART Evolving Alien vii. 154 These could then be grazed by specialised protozoa (ciliates like Paramecium..), which were then predated by larger organisms.

    2. intr. To act as a predator.
    1974 Trout & Salmon Mar. 50/2 It is hoped that the stock of trout will predate sufficiently to minimise the problem [of coarse fish]. 1977 Field 13 Jan. 47/1 Man is a predator... To predate in person, instead of by proxy, is not unnatural. 1995 Daily Tel. 12 Aug. (Weekend Suppl.) 3/4 An awful lot of things use dead wood... They eat it, hide in it or use it to predate on dead wood invertebrates.

  2. Hi Lee: It sounds awful in the 1941 example. And, while I am more inclined to descriptive approaches to language than to prescriptive ones, in this case I think the writer was simply coining a barbarism best left in the moldering pages of the Proc. Royal Society.