In The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy an alien from Betelgeuse visits the earth and calls himself "Ford Prefect" I get the impression that this is a joke which has been lost as the story has aged. Is there a double meaning for Ford Prefect which viewers/listeners/readers at the time would have found funny?

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    "viewers/listeners" - readers? ;-)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 14:00
  • Yup books too! I could argue that this belongs on Sci-Fi but I'm not a member there so I posted it here instead ;-)
    – Liath
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 14:14
  • "I could argue that this belongs on Sci-Fi" - I for myself would be the last one to argue that anyway.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 14:29
  • @ChristianRau As someone who is always on SciFi.SE, this is an acceptable question there.
    – Izkata
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 15:16
  • @Izkata I know, of course it is. But it is also acceptable here, and as someone who is never on Science Fiction & Fantasy, I'd prefer it to stay here. ;-)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


The Ford Prefect was a car that was reasonably common in the UK up until the 1960's.

Ford Prefect

They're no longer produced, so the joke might be lost on a modern audience.

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    Great thanks - I tried looking it up but kept getting HHG references!
    – Liath
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 13:10
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    What gets me about the name is, in the book, Ford selected the name to blend in on Earth. Therefore we can assume that it's not his real name. So, when they get onto the heart of gold, and meet Zaphod, he greets Ford as 'Ford' and not his 'real' name . . . Explain that !
    – Pat Dobson
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 16:10
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    From Wikipedia:While not explained in the book, a footnote of the original radio scripts explains that "just before arriving (on Earth) he registered his new name officially at the Galactic Nomenclaturoid Office, where they had the technology to unpick his old name from the fabric of space/time and thread the new one in its place, so that to all intents and purposes his name had always been and would always be Ford Prefect Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 17:14
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    I believe there is a strong hint that Ford chose that name because he somehow thought the cars were normal people [as seems to be confirmed by the Movie's scene where he attempts to greet one], and that it took him some while to realise that cars were just tools [they probably looked to him as intelligent, and almost as numerous/presposterous/noisy/all-over-the-planet as the humans] Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 17:56
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    @PatDobson Zaphod, greets Ford as 'Ford' not his 'real' name. Explain ... Simple the book, and movie is mostly from the perspective of the perspective of Arthur Dent, and Dent has a Babel fish. Zaphod may have used Ford's name in the language spoken in the area somewhere close to Betelgeuse but it was translated automatically into a symbol that the Babel fish user could recognize in this case the name Arthur already knew. - hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Babel_Fish
    – Zoredache
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 1:37

I think a more pertinent answer might be, that the Ford Prefect was just about one of the most basic un scientific, least futuristic cars on the road at that time. They were cross sprung for economy, that meant just two leaf springs per car instead of the normal four, the wipers ran from a vacuum tank on the manifold which meant they slowed down or stopped the faster you went ( handy for overtaking ) and the engines were side-valve, ( not uncommon but certainly old ) . Despite all this they were lovable, I had one , and believe it or not , it's still around or so I'm told. I think the name was used more in sarcasm than anything else. By the way ,if anyone knows where RAU 414 is today , please do get in touch.


A typographical error, transposition of the letters e and r, is all that is needed to produce prefect from the word perfect, which means error-free. That dry little linguistic joke, combined with the absurdity of naming a person after a car brand and model, sort of adds up to a joke, albeit not an especially funny one.

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    "Prefect" is actually a word in and of itself (see, for example, the model of car that you referenced) - it can be used to describe a governor/magistrate (hence the derivation of the word "prefecture" for lands overseen by a prefect) or to describe an older student who's put in charge of younger students at a school. The word is, admittedly, not as common in the U.S. as it is in the UK, but especially considering that Douglas Adams was, in fact, from England, I highly doubt "Prefect" was intended as a misspelling of "perfect." (The joke was likely intended to just be related to the car.)
    – ghostdog
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 4:45
  • Adams definitely would have been aware that the two words are anagrams of each other and may have found that amusing.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 4:49
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    If you have proof outside of idle speculation that he found that particular aspect of the word to be amusing (in such a way that would influence how he named the character), I highly recommend that you provide link(s). (Pure speculation that may help to inform others' answers is certainly welcome, but it would be better suited as a comment than an answer.)
    – ghostdog
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 4:59
  • OP didn't ask for an authoritative answer from Douglas Adams. He asked if there was something funny about it that he missed. Besides, we're in the era of post-structuralism. Douglas Adams' interpretation of his work is not necessarily any more valid than anyone else's.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 5:20

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