Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Log onto or on to

I always hesitate to wade into the tech terms waters because the flame throwers come out waaay too quickly. But since I've had some folks ask through the S.C. Press Association's Editor's 4-1-1 line, here goes:

If you are using AP style or happen to follow Microsoft's Manual of Style you log in to a system, not log into.

Login, logoff, logout, etc., are reserved by AP as nouns describing the process. Microsoft eschews the nouns but favors some of them as adjectives (it never uses logoff, for instance, reasoning that while you might have a "logon password," you don't really have a "logoff" anything).

And checking the number of hits on Google, log on to has more than 9 million vs. almost 3 million for log onto. (I don't ever find this definitive, but offer it up for illustration.)

However, as this 2002 discussion at Fog Creek Software shows, if you are of the technical persuasion, your preferences may be dictated less by stylebooks and more by what operating system or software you favor. It's a pretty complete circling of the subject.


At 1/31/06, 1:09 PM, Anonymous Will Atkinson said...

Login, logoff, etc., are also the adjectival forms.
I designed a login system for a software company while in high school and had to deal with technical nomenclature.
Terms in the tech field are amorphous and restless. Words are turned into verbs, adjectives and adverbs with little consideration.
I think this is partly due to the scientific field's animosity towards language as a descriptive rather than strictly communicative device. Pick up any scientific journal and tepid descriptions will have you snoring in no time.

At 1/31/06, 3:35 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yes, but Microsoft would not let you use them as nouns. :)

AP, on the other hand, while labeling them as nouns, would not seem to preclude using them as a descriptive, which is often done with nouns.

Which is why we have stylebooks that are constantly updated. :)

At 1/31/06, 4:29 PM, Anonymous Hilary Schramm said...


You mention the Microsoft style manual. Is it the industry standard for technical terms? I now work in an IT department (at UNC), and a lot of the terms I come across aren't mentioned in AP. What do you recommend as a backup?

At 1/31/06, 5:32 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Industry standard in tech circles is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to words, spelling and usage. As noted in that Fog Creek link, part of it is determined by what terms are used by the software or OS you use; terms are not standardized.

The MS Style Guide probably is as good as any to start because it is so widespread. But note from the Fog Creek discussion, even some MS programs differ in terminology. The Tech Web encyclopedia is also a good place to check

At 2/2/06, 11:45 AM, Blogger fev said...

Doug: Seems to me the question is whether on, in &c are prepositions or parts of phrasal verbs. I say the latter, and that generally means two words as a verb (log on, kick off, screw up) and one as a noun or adj (logon, kickoff, screwup -- tho the 4th New Collegiate would rather hyphenate the last).

There's a good discussion in Evans & Evans of how "onto" came into being. The last line makes a similar point: "When 'on' is simply a qualifying word attached to the verb and not part of a prepositional phrase, as in 'they went on to victory', it must not be joined with 'to.'"

How's your semester? Glad to see you're back to regular posting.

At 2/2/06, 12:51 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks for the commentary. Excellent as always. We are past the "boot camp" part of senior semester and into our first week of production. No child or family pet is safe.


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