Sunday, August 15, 2010

Upon what premise do you not say ‘upon-premises’?

Crikey, mate, and stone the flamin’ crows! Even we Aussies in our antipodean backwater, an island far from the birthplace of the English language, know the difference between ‘premise’ and ‘premises’ so there’s no excuse whatsoever for you northern hemisphere dwellers to mangle the English language like you keep on doing!
I’ve been extremely interested in spoken languages since I started learning French and Latin at the beginning of my high school years. Since then I’ve dabbled to a greater or lesser extent in other tongues: German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Japanese, Indonesian, Chinese (Mandarin, or Putonghua). Apart from any practical use – during a visit to a country, or meeting foreign visitors your own country -- when you find out even a few words and phrases of another language you begin to better understand and appreciate the peoples who speak it.
And I know that spoken languages are ever-changing and adapting, with old words or word usages continually being changed, extended or dropped.
Apart from their distinctive pronunciations, Australians, New Zealanders and (?) South Africans tend to use British variants, while our North American friends often have diverged. As the saying goes, we’re "separated by a common language."
I’ve written about this before, please refer to We landed momentarily, upon a premise … Cloud computing? Phooey! Since cloud computing is being increasingly discussed, I’d like to reiterate the distinction that I made there, this time adding a bit of colour (color, if you prefer):
So, you might implement a cloud computing solution based on the two premises that it would firstly save you money and secondly be faster to implement than an on-premises, or in-premises, solution (one located on your organization’s data center, for example). But it would be incorrect to say “on-premise, or in-premise” solution.
I’m a bit disheartened when I hear the incorrect ‘premise’ usage so often. But on the other hand I’m heartened by IBM peoples’ proper usage. for example in the announcement IBM LotusLive 1.3 adds e-mail services for both new and existing Notes Domino customers and Ed Brill’s blog posting LotusLive Notes: Open for business! … However some very naughty people commenting on Ed Brill’s posting used the incorrect ‘premise’ attribution.
Oh how so much I’m whingeing about presence or absence of a single letter “s” – but I’m a pedant, a “language nerd” … and proud of it!

UPDATE (06 October 2015)
I just stumbled upon a Wikipedia post that gives  a derivation of the term:
Premises are land and buildings together considered as a property. This usage arose from property owners finding the word in their title deeds, where it originally correctly meant "the aforementioned; what this document is about", from Latin prae-missus = "placed before".

In this sense, the word is always used in the plural, but singular in construction. Note that a single house or a single other piece of property is "premises", not a "premise", although the word "premises" is plural in form; e.g. "The equipment is on the customer's premises", never "The equipment is on the customer's premise".


  1. This would be a non-issue had the original marketing surrounding the benefits of cloud computing opted for the terms "onsite" and "offsite"; mangling that would requie a complete misspelling (i.e. "on sight"), which would be far easier for the typist to recognize his mistake prior to publication... and, when speaking the term aloud, even if you're misspelling it in your own head, the listener most likely hears the correct spelling. Unfortunately, it seems that the very genes of those in marketing dictate that they use either the fanciest word they can think of for the concept they wish to convey, or the same word everyone else has been using in order to piggy-back on the latest hype or trend. Hence, the moment one marketer referred to a site as a premises, marketing law demanded that the rest of them must as well... and, as a corollary, the moment one screwed it up, the rest were forced to play along.

    Of course, chosen profession aside, I suspect I'd be overjoyed simply to observe a larger percentage of people correctly using our dear, old friend, the apostrophe: kids, "your" is not the same word as "you're"; similarly, if the idea you wish to express is not "it is", then "it's" is not the correct spelling. I, too, am pedantic about such things, and, for some reason, this particular mistake bugs me the most.

  2. Ironically, an attentive reader will observe that I misspelled "require" in my last comment. I blame it on my iPad's onscreen keyboard (though, of course, every keyboard is only as useful as the fingers tapping upon it).