August 16, 2005

Onpassing, outgassing, and upskirting

Peter Suber sent in a usage that struck him as odd, from an article by John Blossom:

Usage statistics are the lifeblood of this exercise and they can illuminate a collection's importance to some degree, but what happens to content once it's away from the bounds of centralized statistics? It gets referenced in citation links, onpassed in emails and generally works its way into the infrastructure of an organization. [emphasis added]

I speculated by return email that Blossom's past role as VP of Outsell, Inc. might have given him a taste for words made from a preposition and a verb written solid. Peter's reponse:

I read enough stuff from Outsell and John Blossom to think that this isn't a house style at Outsell.  But I like the idea that it's a house joke and that just this once it slipped through the copy editor (or throughslipped the copy editor).

Google finds 338 instances of {onpassed} and 186 of {onpassing}. A number are from South Asian sources, but some appear to come from native speakers of English -- often from Australia or New Zealand:

While tracking back through the snail trail left by my Nike email, a friend onpassed a story in The Financial Times where Doug Miller, of the Toronto-based consultancy, Environics warned ...

Unfortunately, those myths have been onpassed to current generations.

The major payments are for public housing (onpassed by the Budget to the Department of Housing - a Non Budget Sector agency) and roads.

The onpassing of these receipts to the ACT Government’s Central Financing Unit...

The first category relates to payments for onpassing to other bodies and individuals.

And at least two are from other articles by John Blossom, so if it's a joke that throughslipped the copy editor, (s)he upmessed more than once:

Though their consumer orientation would probably keep them out of the EContent 100 directly, expect companies such as Shared Media Licensing, Inc., creators of the Weed rights management system enabling content to be monetized as it's onpassed, and new companies such as SNOCAP to represent the beginning of a new wave of rights management capabilities that enable both traditional publishers and individuals and institutions to find profits from content in ways that they had never considered before.

Think long and hard about how the digital objects that you distribute can have life in the hands of your users beyond the first glance and as they get onpassed from one person to another.

There are plenty of precedents, such as bypass and uplift and overflow, and apparently onpass is well established for some people. But it's news to some others, one of whom asks:

(Q. I'm onpassing to you an email...)
A. Is onpassing sort of like outgassing?

No, I think that outgassing is more like upskirting... While outgassing is not related to a prepositional phrase of the form "out the gas", it could be related to a phrase like "let out the gas", just upskirting could be related to a phrase "look up the skirt".

[Update: Drew Smith writes:

I did a quick LexisNexis Academic search and found 92 probable uses of "onpass", "onpassed", or "onpassing" in major papers dating back as early as the April 23, 1982 issue of The Financial Times of London, which had this by Peter Montagnon on page 25 in Section II: "Although the borrowing vehicle is Morgan's offshore subsidiary J. P. Morgan International Finance N.V. proceeds of the note will be onpassed to Morgan Guaranty Trust in the form of a subordinated capital note."

Thanks to Drew for uplooking this and alongsending it! I just outchecked Google News, and found just one example, from a South African source: "He says the Protector avoids dealing with this core issue -- Imvume's onpassing of R11m of taxpayers' money to the ANC -- by 'a neat yet outrageous ... " A search of the current indices of the NYT and the WaPo didn't upturn anything.

Seriously, it's clear that onpass is an established usage, though it's one that some people (incuding Peter Suber and me) have managed to miss up to now. I note that many of the citations, from the web as well as this journalistic example, seem to come from the vocabulary of finance-speak, so perhaps it's become established there and is now outleaking into more general use.

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 16, 2005 06:49 PM