[Editor’s Note: Worst Word of the Week is a regular GeekWire feature spotlighting the pretentious, unnecessarily complex, buzzword-laden, imprecise-but-precise-sounding language that plagues the tech industry. Read our introductory post for more background.]
This week’s worst word: Premise
Examples of (mis)use: Examples of misuse are, unfortunately, ubiquitous. This word is misused at least as often as it’s used correctly. I’m not the first to bemoan this error or to ponder how it became so common. The error is widespread among vendors and PR types. I’ve even seen it from journalists, who should know better.
What it means: A premise is a logical supposition, a proposition or a theory — for example, “Your argument is based on a flawed premise.” It is rarely used in the plural, though doing so is perfectly proper in the rare event you’re referring to multiple suppositions, propositions or theories. I can’t think of a time it would be proper to say “on-premise.”
In contrast, “premises” refers to a house or a building. “On premises” means within a building or, more broadly, within an organization’s buildings. In technology, this means servers housed by a company, as opposed to those accessed from a vendor’s headquarters or data center — in other words, in the cloud. I have no problem with the elision “on-prem,” so long as it’s understood that that refers to “premises” and not “premise.”
Oh, and by the way: when “on premises” is used as a compound adjective preceding a noun, it should be hyphenated. When it is used as a predicate adjective, no hyphen is needed. Examples: “We have an on-premises server,” but “Our server is located on premises.”
Why it’s the worst: This misuse isn’t really confusing, but it’s vexing to those trying to use language carefully. OK, language changes over time. But these are two distinct words, and I think it’s worthwhile to maintain the distinction between them.
I’ve got the emotional bandwidth to hate other words, so feel free to submit your favorite candidate to email@example.com. Don’t expect to see it here any time soon, though. There’s too much material I’ve already collected that’s making me seethe.