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Origin of prep

First recorded in 1860–65; by shortening

Other definitions for prep (2 of 3)

[ prep ]
/ prɛp /

noun Medicine/Medical.
pre-exposure prophylaxis: the prevention of a disease such as HIV or hepatitis A through the use of pills or vaccine, administered typically to those whose risk of contracting the disease is substantial.

Other definitions for prep (3 of 3)


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What else does prep mean?

Preps are people who live a preppy lifestyle, associated with young, rich, usually white men and their stereotypical fashion.

Where does prep come from?

The terms prep and preppy are shortened from preparatory school, which prepares students for higher education.

Historically, the children of America’s elite were traditionally sent away to expensive, exclusive preparatory academies, which served as feeder schools to institutions like Harvard and Yale.  Due to a push starting in the 1960s for all students to have access to education outside of the typical public school, these preparatory schools began admitting people from a more diverse socioeconomic background.

So, while the word prep no longer only refers to people who attended one of these elite schools, it does refer to individuals who identify with or are connected to the culture that resulted from preparatory school traditions. 

In the 1980s, The Official Preppy Handbook was published. It was meant to be a joke, but some took it seriously as a set of instructions on how to live the preppy lifestyle. Due to many aspects of the lifestyle carrying a hefty price tag, preps continue to be from or associated with a wealthy upbringing.

One of the biggest qualities of preppy culture is the fashion, which has been characterized as a hybrid of casual and formal attire, often from pricy retailers. Think pastel-colored khaki shorts; a tucked-in, pop-collared Polo shirt; and loafers or boat shoes worn without socks. Many stereotypically preppy activities are expensive and exclusive, too, such as rowing, sailing, or riding horses.

How is prep used in real life?

Numerous U.S. presidents attended prep schools, including Massachusetts native President John F. Kennedy, who was a graduate of Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall. 

Preppy characters are also found in popular movies and TV shows, including Mad Men’s Pete Campbell and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Carlton Banks. The hit series Gossip Girl centered around the lives of a group of elite New York City prep school attendees.

The terms prep and preppy can be found on social media, print, and in speech. Often, the terms carry a negative connotation when used by people outside of the preppy subculture to describe people within it—though plenty of self-styled preps embrace the term. 

The stereotypical preppy aesthetic is also often trendy and fashionable in mainstream culture, especially among young men.

More examples of prep:

“Just met w/a student from San Antonio’s March for Our Lives/Students Demand Action. At her school, the “cool” preps who counterprotested their walk-out park new parent-purchased Jeeps, emblazoned w/American, Texas, Confederate, & Don’t Tread On Me flags, in ‘Jeep Row.’”
—@annehelen, August 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use prep in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for prep (1 of 2)

/ (prɛp) /

informal short for preparation (def. 5), mainly US preparatory school
verb preps, prepping or prepped
(tr) to prepare (a patient) for a medical operation or procedure

British Dictionary definitions for prep (2 of 2)


abbreviation for
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012