Rantings of a sub-editor

June 25, 2010

On onto

Filed under: word choice — substuff @ 3:03 pm
Tags: , ,

 Finally, inspiration strikes! One of my colleagues today raised the question of whether it should be “put a charge on to” a card or “put a charge onto” a card. Myself and another sub immediately started shaking our heads and denouncing the one-word onto, and the style guide backed us up. But to be honest, although I know that ‘onto’ is a no-no and I always avoid it, I’m not sure why. To me, ‘onto’ and ‘on to’ have quite a distinct difference – the former meaning to move one object on to (onto?) another, and the latter having a meaning connected to distance or time, as in “moving on to”.

I looked it up in the dictionary on my desk – The Concise Oxford Dictionary: the new edition for the 1990s (what can I say, I’m the new girl!) – which took a somewhat ambivalent view.

onto:
to a position or state on or in contact with. The form onto is still not fully accepted in the way that into is, although it is in wide use. It is however useful in distinguishing sense as between we drove on to the beach  (i.e. in that direction) and we drove onto the beach (i.e. in contact with it)

The Guardian’s style guide says, militantly:

on to:
not onto
Kingsley Amis, perhaps slightly overstating the case for this, argued: “I have found by experience that no one persistently using onto writes anything much worth reading”

And the Times style guide says, rather promiscuously:

on to:
 unlike into, two words generally better than one, as in “she moved on to better things”, though “he collapsed onto the floor” is acceptable

And now that I think about it, I am beginning to feel quite passionately that there is a place in the world for ‘onto’. It has a distinct meaning and aids clarity and communication. We do it with ‘into’ and ‘in to’ – why not equal rights for ‘onto’? Who’s with me?

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4 Comments »

  1. Agreed! I’m quite busy at the moment, but once I’ve finished my work I’ll get on to getting onto your bandwagon.

    Comment by Tom Freeman — June 25, 2010 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  2. “I and another sub”, shurely…

    Comment by Freelance Unbound — June 25, 2010 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, myself admits that was not quite right!

      Comment by substuff — June 26, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply

  3. Sorry – nitpicking aside, I’m with you on the onto/on to dilemma: I want there to be some sort of clear rule, but no one else does. And it would be useful to have variants for different uses.

    Now – how do you feel about the no-one/no one question?

    Comment by Freelance Unbound — June 25, 2010 @ 10:16 pm | Reply


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