online or on-line -(Preachment)

Subject: online or on-line -(Preachment)
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 08:53:18 -0800

Dear Joyce: I think you've got to become more secure and sure of
yourself in your use of English, and I think you or somebody in your
organization, probably you, should have called a meeting or exchange
of memos to cover the online or on-line question long ago.

Particularly in organizations where there can be second guessing by
marketing, you've got to position yourself as the person who knows
what's what when it comes to matters of spelling and grammar. There
is no substitute for knowledge, no matter what they didn't teach you
in school. Even if you can't spout this stuff off the top of your
head, I am sorry you couldn't at least have pulled out a book, shoved
it under their noses, and said: "See here!"

Tonight on your way home, or no later than this weekend, I think you
should stop at your library or bookstore. Turn to paragraph 6.32 of
the Chicago Manual of Style (14th ed.) and read what it says about
compounds. Read everything else on compounds and hyphens in the
Chicago Manual and all other good style manuals. Webster's Third
Unabridged Dictionary (the big heavy one) has a swell article on
compounds. While you are at it, look for on-line or online in one or
more standard English dictionaries (American Heritage, Webster,
Webster's New World) and also in one or more standard computer or
software dictionaries (Microsoft Press, IBM).

And if you come the the conclusion that you should own some of these
books for protection against future assaults, then I hope you will go
ahead and invest in them.

What you will find in the computer and software dictionaries is
online without the hyphen. This could suggest that online is jargon
rather than conventional, but you and I know that online is certainly
in wide use. What you will find in the current standard dictionaries
is a preference for on-line, when you've got an adjective. Don't
forget that if you and I are communicating on line right now, because
it's an adverb. I would be willing to bet that as new editions of the
standard dictionaries appear over the next decade or two, you will see
them listing online as at least an acceptable alternate if not the
preferred way to go.

If you and they are quoting the grammarian correctly, and if the
grammarian had all of the facts, then the grammarian gets an F,
especially for saying that on-line is "proper." To call it proper is
pure bull. The Marketing Department gets an F and looks pretty stupid
for changing the spelling of a deployed system. Marketing should have
pushed for an early meeting over the spelling, and not waited so long.


BTW, one the of mail order catalogs that sometimes reaches me has a
tee-shirt that you could wear after confrontations like this. I
believe the firm sells merchandise with ties to public television. I
can't remember the exact phrasing of the thing, but it's something to
the effect of Does Anal Retentive Need a Hyphen? Perhaps some of us
who feel so bad for you knowing how bad you must feel could take up a
collection and buy one for you.

And better luck next time.

Bill Sullivan
bsullivan -at- deltecpower -dot- com
San Diego, California

>>> Joyce Flaherty <flahertj -at- smtpgw -dot- liebert -dot- com> - 2/6/96 12:20 PM
>>>
My first request for help from the list:


We conceived a system, Xxxxxxx Online.
We designed the system, Xxxxxxx Online.
We built the system, Xxxxxxx Online.
We tested the system, Xxxxxxx Online.
We debugged the system, Xxxxxxxx Online.
We refined the system, Xxxxxxxx Online.
We deployed the system, Xxxxxxx Online, to 50 states and three
countries. and we continue to maintain and nourish the system,
Xxxxxxx Online.

Our Marketing department advertised and promoted the system,

Xxxxxxx On-Line.

When I protested, they said, "After we talked to you, we consulted a
grammarian. The proper spelling is on-line." They did apologize to
me. They did admit error in changing the name of our product. BUT,
they implied that there is something very wrong with naming a system
Xxxxxxx Online (one word, no hyphen). What do you think?

joyce flaherty


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