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 Dictionary.com, 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?