The Girl put a name to something this week that I had never quite named before. We were discussing one of her teachers. As she put it, “She’ll give us an assignment, and then, like, she’ll get pre-mad at mistakes she thinks we’ll make. We haven’t even started yet!”
I don’t think “pre-mad” is an actual term, but it should be. It describes something specific and real. I think we’ve all seen it, and we’ve probably all felt it at some point.
It’s a tricky term, because if you convert it to a noun -- pre-madness -- it sounds like it’s referring to insanity, rather than anger. (Kristin Hersh uses the term “angrifying” rather than “maddening” in her books, presumably to make the distinction clear.) And if you’re pedantic enough, you could interpret it to mean “before anger,” as opposed to “anger in advance.” But nothing else works quite as well. “Anticipatory anger” sounds a little high-toned. “Anxious” is even more ambiguous than “mad.” I guess you could go with something like “curt,” but that misses a key part of the meaning.
Pre-emotions are a funny blend of vivid and inaccurate. Heading into an experience, it can be hard to contain the emotions that you expect it to produce. But those expectations are frequently wrong, or at least short-lived. Stage fright is an easy example, at least for me; I’m almost always far more nervous before I give a talk than while I’m giving it. Once I get a few words into it, the anxiety is replaced by focus on the task at hand. When you’re in the midst of doing, there’s not much time for worrying.
Maybe because they’re untethered to reality, pre-emotions can be more intense than the ones in the actual moment. We’ve all had that feeling in the moment, or shortly thereafter, of “wait, that’ … it? I got all worked up over … this?” That’s a lot of energy misspent.
In the case of The Girl’s teacher, the sort of pre-emptive anger the teacher is showing is grounded in some experience, but still counterproductive. I assume the teacher knows of which she speaks; most of us who’ve taught for a while have seen enough patterns of mistakes to be able to anticipate many of them. But short-selling the students’ ability is undermining. It’s possible to caution students against common mistakes without conveying a fatalism that they take, with justification, as disrespect. The Girl was annoyed that she was presumed guilty until proven innocent. I don’t blame her.
That said, it can be hard to head off pre-mad at the pass. Pattern recognition is real; when you start to see a frustrating pattern return, it’s easy to skip ahead to the presumed outcome without even realizing that you’re doing it. That feeling of “here we go again …” can generate emotions before reality has had a chance to play itself out. Sometimes reality takes a left turn, though, and you’re left feeling foolish.
I can’t claim immunity to getting pre-mad; I think it’s pretty universal. But some level of experience helps. Having had reality take left turns enough times to know how ridiculous it feels when a pre-emotion proves groundless can help; if nothing else, it plants a seed of useful doubt about the accuracy of pattern recognition. Sometimes early warnings are false alarms. Leaving open that possibility can tamp down some of the urgency.
Still, though, I can’t think of a better formulation than “she got pre-mad at mistakes.” I hereby submit pre-mad to the interwebs as a new word.