Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

New for old

with 10 comments

A golf ball directly before the hole
Image via Wikipedia

I spotted this notice in the window of a charity shop:

Experienced golf balls

The aim was, of course, to raise a smile — and get those second-hand golf balls sold. But it got me thinking about all the descriptions that have been coined, usually by those in the retail trade, to describe goods that, er, aren’t new. (I’d be rubbish as a salesperson.)

Here’s the list I came up with:

  • Antique (a term not always strictly applied)
  • Pre-enjoyed (used a while back in the UK by some car dealers)
  • Pre-owned
  • Nearly new
  • Retro
  • Vintage
  • Recycled
  • Refurbished
  • Reconditioned
  • Donated goods (seen in some UK charity shops)

I wonder why it sounds cool to say, ‘I got a bargain retro jacket today’, but totally uncool to say, ‘I got a cheap second-hand jacket today’?

Such is the power of language.



10 Responses

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  1. Morning Deborah,

    Let’s not forget the rather twee “pre-loved” which seems to be applied to pretty much anything, including pets, wedding dresses, cars and, rather mysteriously (if you Google it), Stockport.



    06/07/2010 at 10:28 am

    • Hi, Ron — I’ve not come across ‘pre-loved’ — particularly in relation to Stockport, I have to say. Of course, it raises the question: if loved, why discarded?


      06/07/2010 at 1:48 pm

      • “Of course, it raises the question: if loved, why discarded?”

        Ah -but it’s not loved any more – the clue’s in the “pre-” It was once, not any longer.

        If you check your local paper’s classifieds, on whatever day it does cars, you’ll have more “pre-loved” than a hound’s got fleas.


        07/07/2010 at 10:22 am

        • It gets sadder and sadder. ‘Pre-loved’ suggested ‘already loved’ to me. As in ‘pre-washed’ jeans.

          Hope you’re doing OK, Ron.


          07/07/2010 at 10:27 am

    • And people.

      Michael Farrell

      06/07/2010 at 5:00 pm

      • I’m not sure if that sounds sad or not. Perhaps it should be added as ‘PL’ to all those abbreviations used in dating ads:



        06/07/2010 at 5:57 pm

        • I have NO ideer what you’re talking about. “Dating ads”??

          Nearly everyone over the age of 10 is pre-loved to some degree. That’s what “baggage” is, isn’t it? Come to think of it, all of the above terms apply to people at times — even “donated.” In fact, refurbishing is more and more in vogue, I hear.

          Michael Farrell

          06/07/2010 at 7:32 pm

  2. Fixer-upper. That’s an oldie.

    This post brings up an experience I had July 1st.

    I’m seriously looking for work, so I check the paper and internet daily.
    I saw an ad in the paper:
    Drivers needed!
    Class B license required; Class A preferred.
    (address and phone number)

    I get excited. I’ve got a class A that I got years ago, but never went OTR driving. Now I couldn’t buy a job, class A or not. So I get cleaned up a bit and decide I’ll just drive there, resume’ and all.
    It’s about 20 miles there. On the way I’m dreaming of a nice delivery-type job, driving a 10 wheel bobtail with AC and a stereo, maybe delivering statewide. Maybe I can break into sales even!

    I get there and it’s on the edge of this small town.
    There’s a nice trailer with the GREEN ENVIRONMENTAL logo on it. GREAT!
    I knock, no answer. I try to go in, it’s locked.
    There’s a fresh blacktop winding around the back and through some trees. I figure it goes to a warehouse, so I decide to go for a look-see.
    I get past the trees, and voila’….the ‘warehouse’!
    Only it’s not a warehouse.
    It’s a trash compacting/transfer station.
    The company wants “Sanitation Engineers” aka trash-truck drivers!

    No doubt, I’m not experienced enough for this anyway.
    I’ve even been turned down for jobs driving actual, real,….chicken poop. Yep. Picking up loads of chicken poop in Northwest Arkansas and bringing it back to Southest Kansas for fertilizer.
    I need two years experience to haul stinking chicken poop out of Dogpatch Arkansas.

    Any good misnomers out there for “depressed and discouraged”?
    At this point, my self esteem is a “fixer-upper”.

    BTW, I’m applying anyway.


    06/07/2010 at 2:26 pm

    • Hi, there

      Welcome to Wordwatch. Thanks for taking the time to share this. Yes, job advertisements are another rich source of euphemisms.

      Good luck with your application!


      06/07/2010 at 3:08 pm

  3. From Guy Keleny’s ‘Errors and omissions’ column in The Independent:

    Old bird: “Veteran osprey lays her first egg of 2010”. It is not easy to pin down a single reason why this headline, which appeared over a news story on Wednesday, is so delightfully absurd.

    It suggests that the bird is not only old (she is in fact 25, which is indeed old for an osprey) but that she has been an osprey for a long time. That raises the question of what she was before she was an osprey.

    But mostly, I think, the comic effect is created by the desperate journalistic desire to pass judgement, to use language that suggests how the reader ought to react. To describe the avian mum-to-be merely as “old” would suggest some implied criticism. Being old is bad. But this story is good. So how can we find an upbeat way of saying “old”? Ah, I know: “veteran”!

    If we were in America, I suppose the maternal raptor might have ended up as a “senior osprey”.


    09/10/2012 at 7:11 am

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