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August 01, 2018  |  Lexicalization on-prem  |  4580 hit(s)

Last week there was a technical conference about cloud technology that a lot of our colleagues went to. As they do, people live-tweeted about what they were seeing. At one point, our boss tweeted an observation about the term on-premises:

This was a wee bit of a joke. Those of us who work in cloud technologies talk about on-premises resources, which refers to stuff that isn’t in the cloud, i.e., that's on the customer's site. And we’ve been adamant that it’s is on-premises, with an s at the end, not on-premise. The word premise refers to a proposition or basis ("The premise of the TV show is that …"), which is quite a different meaning than premises, which refers to the space occupied by a business ("No drinking is allowed on the premises").

But in our editing we change on-premise to on-premises all the time. Which is to say, s-less on-premise to mean on-premises is widespread. This means that people don't really think about what the component pieces of on-premise(s) really mean; they're using on-premise as a single term. In language talk, the expression has been lexicalized with idiomatization: the expression has been taken into the lexicon as a unit. (Compare could care less, as in "I could care less.")

In the same spirit that Jim posted the tweet, I suggested that on-premise would be the beg the question of 10 years from now. By which I meant that on-premise would be so widespread that people didn't even realize that this was technically a mistake.

Of course, we could solve the problem at a blow by just going straight to on-prem ("Migrating from on-prem to the cloud"). I think of this as the alum solution—who can keep track of alumnus/alumna/alumni/alumnae? No one, that's who, so let's just go with "They're all alums of the University of English Spoken On-Premise." :)

Update There's an interesting discussion in a comment on Adam Fowler's blog about why s-less on-premise makes sense morphologically in English.

And another update! Katherine Barber, a Canadian lexicographer, addressed the premise/premises question some year ago. Her conclusion:

In fact, if you do a Google search on "licensed premise" you find the term in many legal documents, from all over the English-speaking world. If this usage bothers you, my advice is: hie you to a licensed premise, drink up, and accept the inevitable.

Jim Travis   01 Aug 18 - 11:48 AM

Thanks for the 15 seconds of fame, Mike. (Typo and all.)