Language

All for Un- and Un- for All

How did one prefix become so unavoidable?

Nancy Friedman
6 min readJan 6, 2024

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Here are some titles, websites, and brand names that have drifted into my awareness during the last eight months:

  • Unjected: “a place to meet like-minded unvaccinated people”
  • Unwoke: a book by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), published in November 2023
  • UnXeptable: a grassroots movement for a democratic Israel, founded in 2020
  • Unlimit, a London-based financial-technology company that promises “borderless payments”
  • Unflattering by Dacy Gillespie, The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum, and The Unpublishable by Jessica DeFino (three unrelated Substack newsletters)
  • Unshrinking: a book about fatphobia by Kate Manne (publication date: January 9, 2024)
  • Unpregnant: a 2020 movie about a determined teen and her abortion, based on a 2019 novel of the same name
  • Unplanned: a 2019 feature film with an anti-abortion message
  • UnHerd: a British news site that aims to “push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places”
  • Unsplash: a source for copyright-free images like the “Unfriend” image posted below

Clearly, and despite the song lyric, un- is not the loneliest number. It’s a member of a very crowded club. In my own Substack newsletter, which does not have an Un- title, I dubbed un- the prefix of the year for 2023.

I was so, well, unsettled by this un- rush, and so curious about how big a trend it actually represents, that I went looking for additional upper-case examples. I was not unsatisfied in my quest. There was The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, which I’d read and enjoyed when it was published in 2016. That book is unrelated to The Undoing, an HBO mini-series starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman that premiered in 2020. There’s Untitled the magazine (fashion, beauty, culture) and Untitled the Chicago supper club (a “Prohibition-era revival”) and Untitled the annual art fair in Miami Beach (a reference, no doubt, to the many artworks throughout history whose title is “Untitled”).

There’s Undefinable, yet another Substack newsletter (it claims to be about “empowering individual creativity, authenticity, and capability,” but is actually…

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Nancy Friedman

Writer, name developer, brand consultant, idea-ist, ex-journalist. @fritinancy on Mastodon, Instagram, Bluesky, Threads, and elsewhere.