What’s the Difference Between Online and On-Line?
Having taken this week editing and rewriting information about the Relationship Economy, I was posed with the challenge devouring writings of social networking strategist Jay Deragon. Jay is brilliant and is a fantastic researcher, but an English major, he is not. One of the problems with the information Jay sent me was his use of “on line,” “on-line” and “online” as though they are interchangeable.
If you don’t know the difference between the two options, you’re not alone. As Craig Battrick reports on his website, even the editorial team at Readers’ Digest has problems with that same issue. In the November 1999 issue, there was the “teaser” on the front cover which read, “Surprising Things You Can Do On-Line.”
Huh? What’s wrong with that? Well first you should consider the three options: on line, on-line, and online. Battrick writes, “The first is a prepositional phrase. The second is a compound adjective. The third is a simple adjective derived from the second, compound form. The Reader’s Digest cover designers used a compound adjective where they should have used a prepositional phrase.”
In essence, “on line” is a prepositional phrase. Just like “on a bicycle” or “on time.” Therefore, to learn what the ‘net offers, you need to go “on line.” However, if you are already there, you are considered “on-line.”
I contend that the word “online” has come into use during the era of text messages and quick emails on-line. So if you’re concerned about whether to use a space, a hyphen, or just stick the two words together, just see if you can substitute another word, like paper, the table, or time, and still make sense.
A printer is considered online, except when it goes off-line. The major Dot Coms are on-line. There is a vast amount of information “on line.”
The correct use of on line, on-line, and online is rather like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s thoughts about pornography: “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”
How ‘bout it?