On-Premise vs On-Premises – Who Cares?

Update 7th June 2018

I should have linked this earlier, but please read Michelle Warmath’s comment here where as a linguist, she claims ‘On-premise’ is actually correct. I’m not a linguist, but it sounds very well reasoned and sensible. If it’s true, then the premise (!) of my article assuming the term is wrong, is wrong in itself. Anyway, food for thought – please read on. (and welcome Wikipedia readers – I didn’t add the link in to my own blog in case you wondered, but thank you to whomever did). I still have points I made that I stand by.

Original post

Haven’t we got better things to do than worry about this?

From time to time, I see people argue and get upset, frustrated or just obnoxious on the use of “on-premise”. But why?

Yes, the word “premises” means – a house or building, together with its land and outbuildings, occupied by a business or considered in an official context.

…and the word “premise” means – a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion

(thanks Dictionary.com)

so, it makes sense to extrapolate this to an IT term when referring to something being on your property as “on-premises”. It’s the correct term to use.

However, ‘on-premise’ has become mainstream, and it seems to irk a lot of IT professionals. This has been happening for years already, 3 years ago Brian Madden already wrote about how the grammar war had been lost.

We are now at a stage where the biggest of vendors use the term ‘on-premise’ Here’s a few easily googlable examples:

VMware Microsoft Mailguard SAP LogMeIn RedHat RSA

Also, I just used the word ‘googlable’. That’s not a real word… yet. You knew what I meant though, right? Partly because you’ve probably heard it before, and in context it’s rather clear.

Here’s an example of these polar opposite views on Twitter:

@cxi Personally, I’m still in the “if your employees can’t learn to use premises instead of premise, fire them and hire smarter people” camp

— Dave Henry (@davemhenry) April 13, 2017

@TheJasonNash @davemhenry @cxi If you have smart, well-paid people who can’t get past premise/premises, fire them and hire people who focus on the right things.

— Jeramiah Dooley (@jdooley_clt) April 13, 2017

Obviously I’m on the side of the second example here.

To me, there is a huge difference between seeing someone email about “Microsoft Exchange 2012”. That doesn’t exist, and it means I don’t actually know which Exchange version you’re talking about, and question your knowledge on the product if you think that exists. I don’t apply the same logic to “On-premise” because it’s crystal clear what you mean by the term. If vendors commonly use it, why shouldn’t we expect customers of these vendors to do the same?

It’s also widely accepted to use ‘on-prem’ as an abbreviation. I’ve never heard or seen a complain about that term. Isn’t it then silly, and of little to no value to go on about ‘on-prem’ and ‘on-premises’ being acceptable, but ‘on-premise’ isn’t?

On top of this, not everyone is a wordsmith. We all have different skill sets and abilities, and nobody is an equal when it comes to language. It is not a sign of intelligence or lack of intelligence if someone writes about PC’s when they mean PCs. It’s not a lack of attention to detail either – just like so many struggle to have instant recognition of which variation of ‘there’ to use.

Here’s a little secret – up until a few days ago, I thought the term was ‘pre-madonna’ but saw it written for the first time… it’s ‘prima donna’. We all have these silly stories on terms that we got wrong for so much of our lives. I also knew someone who was telling me about ‘phone ticks’. It was actually phonetics, they’d just never HEARD the word, only in it’s written form. They’re funny stories, but they all show a connection between the word and its use.

I’m not saying we should abandon grammar and correct terms. Using the correct term is what we should aim for; it reduces the chance of incorrect interpretation. However, the English language is always evolving. The term ‘Cloud’ was made up by someone recently, and it’s still a very broad, general use term that usually needs defining to work out exactly what it is in each situation.

Here’s another example; do you ever use the word ‘datum‘? It’s the singular of ‘data’. True, it’s less likely to be talking about a single piece of information, but when we do, who interchanges ‘data’ to ‘datum’? I don’t see anyone getting upset about that in the IT community…

I don’t mind if you disagree with me, and think it’s just THAT important that people add the missing ‘s’ on. If that’s what you want to do, good luck to you! I used to get annoyed with the term ‘Serverless‘ but have come to realise that despite it’s technical inaccuracy, I know what it means. So go on, keep using that word too.

Clear communication is what I believe is important; and nothing is lost in that when someone uses the term ‘on-premise’. There’s plenty of more valuable habits that are worth trying to change out there.