Preloved euphemisms


This ad in the local freesheet Galway Advertiser caught my eye. I was interested not in the reconditioned washing machine but in the reconditioned adjective that begins the ad. Preloved (or pre-loved) is apparently a very popular euphemism for pre-owned or second-hand, but I don’t remember remarking on it before. How old is it, I wonder?

Preloved doesn’t appear in many dictionaries, with or without a hyphen. Collins English Dictionary, quoted at, says it’s informal Australian, while Wiktionary has a few examples of its appearance in the wild – well, books and newspapers – modifying cars, homes, tuxedos, and tables.

Browsing Google Books, and ignoring poetical and philosophical contexts, I came across the phrase preloved clothes in Women, Sex, and Pornography (1980) by Beatrice Faust. Looking further, I saw it mentioned in a collection of William Safire’s On Language articles: by advertising “pre-loved Oriental carpets”, a dealer in Philadelphia came second place in Safire’s 1979 Language Prettification and Avoidance of Ugly Reality Awards. (First place went to “experienced cars”.)

Safire’s award suggests that preloved in the second-hand sense might have been fairly new in the late 1970s, at least in U.S. English. (I found no hits in the British National Corpus.) Continuing my casual dig, I soon found an example from 1976, in volume 25 of Chicago from WFMT radio station: “We have several pre-loved Mercedes-Benz automobiles for sale.” It appears to be an ad or blurb, and it assures us that

owning a Mercedes-Benz is somewhat akin to being in love. You shun automatic car washes in favor of doing it yourself. The right way.

I see. Then, in an old Mayville telephone directory (seen on Google Books), there appeared this ad for “new & pre-loved homes”:

That’s from 1975. Lexicographer Kory Stamper was kind enough to take a quick look in Merriam-Webster’s files, and dated it to 1975 too (pending a closer look). Let me know if you find an older example.

For what it’s worth, I don’t much like the term. Loving something doesn’t mean it’s in good condition, and total neglect might leave something as good as new. What’s wrong with second-hand?

15 Responses to Preloved euphemisms

  1. Bill Thayer says:

    I hope you’re sending tickets in to the OED, although it takes them forever to get to them, and they don’t acknowledge.

    And if them was that pre-loved, how come they’re got rid of?

  2. johnwcowan says:

    Second-hand is avoided because it suggests inferiority, as if it meant ‘second-class’, hence the popularity of pre-owned and other euphemisms. Pre-loved, however, strikes me as a self-conscious joke.

  3. Stan says:

    Bill: I’m not, but maybe I should. Many things are loved for a time but were never meant to be kept forever.

    John: Sure, some people avoid second-hand because to them it suggests that something is second-rate. It doesn’t to me, though, and I even prefer some things second-hand. If pre-loved was ever a joke, it has since gone beyond it!

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    I haven’t seen the term applied to humans, when it should be.
    “Yes, he was preloved by Angie.”
    Of course then we could get to postloved which might be another kettle of fish altogether,

  5. Marc Leavitt says:

    Some years back car dealers began to sell pre-owned cars. Before the marketing mavens came up with that euphemism they only sold used cars. Sophistry is still sophistry, and I’ve never heard anyone refer in conversation to having looked at a pre-owned car. As much as it may frustrate the world of advertising, humans sometimes are smart enough to know BS when they hear it. As to pre-loved, does that include marrying a man or woman who may have had earlier relationships? My gut reaction; yeck!

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: I came across that use of pre-loved during my short hunt, such as this instance referring to C. S. Lewis. It was also applied to in-laws, music, and animals. A pet is for life, not just for pre-loving…

    Marc: ‘Sophistry is still sophistry’ – yes! Whatever the connotations of used, or second-hand, I would prefer these straightforward terms to their euphemistic alternatives any day. When it refers to people, pre-loved seems to mean loved in advance/anticipation rather than formerly loved. But ambiguity could arise.

  7. Fran says:

    It sounds a bit personal for something that might be a fridge freezer or a stair carpet, I have to say …

  8. Claude says:

    Those expressions sound very strange to me. I certainly would prefer preliked for appliances. Preloved could be for books or a car. But, like you, I’d much rather say used or second-hand. And with books, second-hand has a charming appeal. I bought a used “Histoire de France” where someone wrote, in beautiful hand-writing: Albert Andrews, July 1867. I’m definitely the second hand owning his book.

  9. It;s quite sweet to described used items as pre-loved. Things I would want to sell would have to be described as pre-hated I suppose

  10. Stan says:

    Fran: It’s certainly much more subjective. But I have to say I’ve become rather attached to some of the carpets I’ve known.

    Claude: I agree, second-hand books conjures up only happy memories and associations for me. I spend far more time in second-hand bookshops than new bookshops, and I’ve found strange and wonderful notes and objects in second-hand books. Not that I have anything against new books! But they don’t offer the same kind of idiosyncratic history.

    Jams: I suppose pre-loved can be sweet sometimes, but it would have to be sincere; I’m sure the phrase is often used disingenuously.

  11. Helen says:

    Stan, what a funny post! The comment by wisewebwoman reminds me of a quote (origin lost to me) “I loved you long, loved you well before loving you no more” – does that sound like “pre-loving”? I agree Stan – bring back second-hand.

  12. Stan says:

    Helen: I suppose it does sound like pre-loved, but I won’t be adopting the usage! Second-hand is frank and factual – if we allow its extension to third hands and more – whereas pre-loved presumes too much for my liking, and is just too silly and sales-talky.

  13. […] Economist’s language blog, Johnson, noticed incent, the verb form of incentive, while Stan Carey mused over preloved euphemisms.  Word Spy spotted omega male, “the man who is least likely to take on a dominant role in a […]

  14. Yet-One-More-Idiot says:

    Generally, if something has been owned by someone else and sold on, I would use either “second-hand” or “pre-owned” to describe (“second-hand” does somewhat carry connotations of inferior quality, as some others have mentioned.

    “Pre-loved”, on the other hand, has a definitely more personal connotation to it, and I would only ever use it for something that was loved in the first place. I’d never sell my old freezer or TV or what-have-you and describe it as “pre-loved”! xD Otherwise it just sounds so…fake.

    I might, however, sell some cherished childhood toys or books or games and describe them as “pre-loved”. I’ve come across the term used quite a bit in this very genuine context, especially when talking about children’s dolls or other favourite toys and such.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Yes, it makes sense for toys and other such items of genuine sentimental value, where the fact they were loved suggests the new owner might love them too. Whereas a second-hand fridge described as ‘pre-loved’ just sounds a bit silly and implausible.

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