Q: If I heat my oven to 350 degrees, am I doing the same thing as people who preheat their ovens to 350 degrees?
A: We just bought a double oven and asked ourselves the same question while reading the section in the owner’s manual on preheating.
The answer? Yes and no. Although something that’s preheated is also heated, the verb “preheat” does have a more precise meaning than the verb “heat.”
Here’s how “preheat” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: “To heat before use or further treatment; to heat beforehand.”
So one “preheats” an oven to a certain temperature before putting in the food.
And here’s the OED’s definition of “heat” in the sense you’re asking about: “To communicate heat to; to make hot, to warm; to raise the temperature of.”
Although “heat” is a very old verb, dating back to around the year 1000, “preheat” isn’t exactly a newbie. It’s been with us since the mid-19th century.
The earliest published reference for “preheat” in the OED, from an 1862 article in Scientific American, describes a pipe that “traverses the furnace for pre-heating the crude sap.”
The dictionary also has citations for preheating tools, an oven, an auto engine, blankets, a sandwich press, and the air.
The two of us say “heat,” not “preheat,” when we talk about stoking up one of our new ovens for a cassoulet. But we don’t get heated up when we hear other people talk about preheating their ovens.
If you’re still bothered by that prefix, you might take a look at a blog item we wrote a couple of years ago about whether “pre-” words need a fix.
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