Working "with"; working "on"

Subject: Working "with"; working "on"
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 13:30:15 -0400

When you hear or read " .. working on <object>...", do you infer a
statement or question about something for which the worker has some
ownership and responsibility?

EXAMPLE: I'm working "on" some images; I am either creating them or
editing them. If somebody needs them, they get them from me when I've
done my thing.

When you hear or read " ... working with <object>...", do you infer a
statement or question about something that is merely available to the
worker, but their ownership or responsibility is for something else?

EXAMPLE: I'm working "with" some images; I am using pre-existing images
available to me to create something else, but I didn't necessarily
create the images, and anybody who needs them isn't expecting me to have
made or edited them (somebody else had that responsibility - I'm just a
beneficiary, in passing).

A Test Engineer asked me a question using the "working on" construction,
and I had a brief "forgot to study for the big test" moment, until I
asked some clarifying questions and reminded myself about something I'd
done two weeks ago. If he'd used the "working with" construction, I
would not have had the same feeling of "have I dropped a ball?", and I
would probably have gotten to what he wanted to know more directly.
Since it was obvious I'd gone off on a tangent as I scrambled to orient
myself to his original question, he asked me if he should have worded it
differently. I began to explain, but then wondered if I'd be giving him
a personal distinction but not a generally held one.

What say ye, O expert ones?

- Kevin (who can't be bothered rejoining Copyeditors-l for
this one question)

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