The language of drinking

Beer cans with words "pre" and "game"
Alejandra Dechet/Staff

Trying to have a conversation that gets beyond basic introductions as “Closer” by The Chainsmokers blasts on repeat while a couple behind you forces you to relinquish your scrap of the table you’re dancing on to their passionate makeout session is no easy task. From the ashes of these types of party interactions, the pregame was born, quickly rising in the ranks of prefered pastimes.

Merriam-Webster says that the earliest written or printed use of “pregame” was in 2004, but it wasn’t until this past month that the word made its permanent mark on the dictionary in its newest, college-friendly form.

pregame; pregamed; pregaming

intransitive verb

: to begin drinking alcohol before an event or activity (such as a party or a night out)

The sole definition for pregame was previously “existing or occurring before a game.” While the word still has connections to gamedays, many now interpret it with relation to the smaller social gatherings preceding the parties, gameday or not, affirming Merriam-Webster’s new definition.

Alex Wildman, a campus sophomore, says she would describe “pregame” as the vehicle to get “up to that level of excitement, dancing, (and) comfort.” Her friends Maddie Batchelder and Maddie Kristensen, both campus sophomores, agree, defining “pregame” as the earlier part of the day before regular or gameday parties when everyone initially gets together, comparing it to pictures before prom in high school.

The perspective is a little different for the president of a fraternity, where pregames typically take place. Connor McKinney, a campus senior, says the words “destroyed, obliterated, (and) trashed” come to mind when he thinks of a pregame. Despite these descriptions, McKinney agrees that there is a sense of comfort about a pregame and notes that it’s usually the time of day when the brothers get to play their music rather than the generic crowd-pleasers of regular parties.

But for someone who only hears about gamedays through friends or pictures on Instagram, it’s natural to take a more literal approach and group the gameday festivities preceding the football parties into the concept of one pre-game event. Collin Moore, a campus sophomore who plays tight end for the football team, says that the pregame parties are “like folklore in the locker room,” as the players themselves never get to experience them.

“According to Moore, they’re a more quiet, personal time to mentally prepare for the game but that the ‘anticipation for the event is probably very similar.'”

Moore says he wishes the newest definition of pregame were “more synonymous with people going to the game,” but his perspective also allows the traditional sense of the word “pregame” to fit well into its original definition. Pregame routines for the team are of a completely different character from the chaos going on outside the locker room. According to Moore, they’re a more quiet, personal time to mentally prepare for the game but that the “anticipation for the event is probably very similar.”

The anticipation of the event mirrors the assimilation of the word in that both experience a gradual increase in feeling and use, respectively. I find it easy enough to guess how the evolution of “pregame” may have come about: Parties held for football pre-game adopted the pregame name, which then translated into meaning drinking before any event. What’s harder to imagine are the nuances: At what point did the pre-game parties return to their party form and end up as a party sandwich between a pregame and a game?

Some words make it more challenging to speculate on their previous trajectory of meanings. In a piece from Charles Dickens’ Household Words, published in 1850, Dickens writes “Sergeant Mith, a smooth-faced man with a fresh bright complexion, and a strange air of simplicity, is a dab at housebreakers.”

“Dab” today has two slang meanings as a dance move or a concentrate of marijuana and is also used as an acronym for drunk-ass bitch. As amusing as it is to think of Sergeant Mith as a drunk-ass bitch, Dickens’ use of the word dates back to the early 19th century use of it as slang for a “dab hand,” meaning a person who is an expert at something. How this term did a full 180 in meaning is beyond my wildest musings.

“Maybe the widely popular tumblr mantra of ‘it’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination’ trickled down into college football culture and emphasized the pregame as the journey toward a party.”

Besides vocabulary, another noticeable aspect of Dickens’ writing is the approach of blurring the lines between fiction and reporting in journalism to engage readers. This practice has reemerged with websites such as Urban Dictionary, Shmoop and The Skimm, which all try to bridge the gap between vernacular and academic language and topics. Pregame’s new place in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is a small scale version of this concept.

The addition of “pregame” to the dictionary is also an interesting event in relation to other social phenomena of our time. Maybe the widely popular tumblr mantra of “it’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination” trickled down into college football culture and emphasized the pregame as the journey toward a party.

A word centered around drinking isn’t necessarily the most positive image to represent millennials, but other aspects of a pregame are important as well. Wildman, Batchelder, Kristensen and McKinney all agreed that there’s a more personal aspect to pregames, a time when you may actually be able to make a new friend on the dance floor.

In this case, however, the roots of the name don’t align with the action. “Game” is Old English and comes from “gamen,meaning “joy” or “fun.” “Pre-” is a well-known prefix that comes from Old French meaning “before.” This name of “pregame” seems to imply that it’s a filler for a later exciting activity, when in actuality it creates its own kind of fun.

Through what was likely a mix of creativity and lack of etymological understanding, someone decided to name this notion of having an event for drinking before going to an event in which the main activity is also drinking. Hopefully, this is just the first step toward eventually actually making more meaningful contributions to the dictionary.

So, what’s the deal with tailgates?

Contact Alejandra Dechet at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aydecks.

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