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en·clit·ic [enˈklidik, inˈklidik] noun enclitic (noun) · enclitics (plural noun) a word pronounced with so little emphasis that it is shortened and forms part of the preceding word, e.g., n't in can't. Compare with proclitic

enclitic (adjective) denoting or relating to an enclitic.

Origin mid 17th century: via late Latin from Greek enklitikos, from enklinein ‘lean on’, from en- ‘in, on’ + klinein ‘to lean’.

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pro·clit·ic [prōˈklidik] noun proclitic (noun) · proclitics (plural noun) a word pronounced with so little emphasis that it is shortened and forms part of the following word, for example, you in y'all. Compare with enclitic

proclitic (adjective) denoting or relating to a proclitic.

Origin early 19th century: from modern Latin procliticus, from pro- + -cliticus (in late Latin encliticus: see enclitic).

I was wondering how the meaning of preceding is derived from "en- 'in, on'" and following from "pro-"?

Would the meanings be clearer if the prefixes were something else, such as "pre-" or "post-"?

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  • Are you asking why 'en' contrasts with 'pro' in the key term here? One seems to get absorbed in the preceding word. The other seems to push forward to the next word. Otherwise, asking for consistency in English is often optimistic. Mar 13 at 22:43
  • pro in Latin is "earlier, before", and proclitics ('t' in "t-shirt") attach to the beginning of a host word. The full OED just says enclitic ('n't' in "can't") is from Latin encliticus, with no further breakdown. But I never knew either of these subcategories until today. Prof John Lawler always just called them all clitics, so far as I recall. Strangely, though, the full OED has enclitic from 1656, and proclitic from 1803, but plain clitic didn't appear until 1946. Mar 13 at 23:12

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I think the comments from @yosefbaskin and @fumblefingers answer the direct question.

Let me just add, it can be intellectually amusing to debate the origins of a word and how the meaning is derived from components of the word. But ultimately, arguing that a word should have been constructed differently is unproductive. Even if you and I agreed that it should be "preclitic" and "postclitic", the academic world is not going to say, "Hey, we'd better change all the dictionaries now, because two random people on a forum said they have a better idea!" It takes a long time and the right circumstances for a new word to be accepted. Demanding that it be changed because you don't think it makes sense is a quixotic quest. I wouldn't bother except in rare cases where I think the choice of a word propagates a false or offensive idea.

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