Q&A: Premiere vs premier

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are premiering premiere vs premier!

Q: Hey AWC, can you guess what I did last night?

A: Sat at home and googled your name?

Q: No, that was the night before. I went to a movie premiere – there was even a red carpet.

A: Wow, fancy.

Q: Well, actually that was when someone spilt red wine on it, but still.

A: Ah, okay.

Q: So my question today is what’s the difference between “premiere” and “premier”?

A: Well, you’ve used “premiere” correctly – it’s described by Macquarie Dictionary as “the first public performance of a play, etc”. Usually it’s the noun, but it has been used more recently as a verb. For example, “the show’s director wanted to premiere the play a week early.”

Q: Wow, a week early? That’s unheard of. Rehearsals must have been going well.

A: It was an example. There is no play!

Q: Cancelled so soon? A shame… I hear the director was pushing them too hard…

A: Uh, okay. Meanwhile, the word “premier” is typically used as an adjective – to mean first in rank or leading. So you might say that a restaurant is the city’s premier fine dining spot. Or that she was the premier ballerina of her generation.

Q: My aunt Felicia was a ballerina, but she was a bit on the heavy side, so often fell through the floorboards.

A: Oh no, really?

Q: Yes, but they said it was just a stage she was going through.

A: Groan…

Q: Thank you. Here all week.

A: So anyway, those are the key meanings. Another big one especially here in Australia, and places like Canada, is the use of “premier” as a rank or title. Some countries use the word “premier” as synonymous with “prime minister” but we have premiers for each of our states (as does Canada for its territories) – separate from the prime minister.

Q: Shouldn’t you be capitalising “Premier”?

A: Good question – but the same rules apply as they would to prime minister or president. You capitalise only when used in the title or with the name. For example, the NSW Premier or Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Q: Wow, that surname would score 24 points in Scrabble!

A: That's nothing. The current Queensland Premier Palaszczuk is worth 36 points.

Q: Impressive.

A: Another common place that the word “premier” appears is in sport. In Australia, the “minor premiership” is decided at the end of the regular season for many sports – with the winners crowned the “minor premiers”. After the finals, the eventual winning team win the “premiership” and are the “premiers”.

Q: And English football has the Premier League, yeah?

A: That’s right. The top tier in their competition, where teams are playing for the Premiership. It’s still true to the meaning of “first in rank or leading”.

Q: So which word came first?

A: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “premier” as an adjective arrived from French in the mid 1400s (originally from Latin “primus” meaning first). The political noun meaning was much later, around the late 1600s. And the use of “premiere” was much much later – attested from 1889, with the verb not widespread until the 1940s.

Q: Cool. So any final thoughts?

A: There is one extra meaning of “premiere” – as the leading lady in a play. It’s akin to a “prima donna” in an opera. So you might say “she was the premier actress of her day and the premiere of the play – performing in front of the premier at the premiere”!

Q: Clever.

A: And just beware that some still bristle at the use of the verb version of “premiere”. For example, “they were premiering the film at the festival”. However, we say it’s fine to use.

Q: Thanks for that. Now, any tips on getting red wine out of carpets…?

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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