by Mark L. Levinson

I’m glad there are sites like and, where you can access your POP e-mail account even when you’re not on your own computer.  But suppose I’m waiting for an important message.  Yesterday I e-mailed Channel 10 with a great idea for a reality show.  You transport a team of contestants into a shopping mall, and without asking anyone, they have to figure out in half an hour what city they’re in.  I check my e-mail to see what the producers will offer me for the concept, and at 9 a.m. there’s no response.  At noon, I check again and I see this message:  “You have timed out. You need to re-logon.”

I need to what?

At least they didn’t say “You have timeouted.” 

Both Merriam-Webster and American Heritage list “log on” as a two-word verb.  American Heritage considers that “log on” is a variant of “log in,” Merriam-Webster considers the reverse.  Generally as technical writers we follow the employer’s choice of “on” or “in.”

What about the noun?  Merriam-Webster says “log-in” or “log-on,” hyphenated.  American Heritage says “login” or “logon,” closed up.

Merriam-Webster notes that the verb “log on” is “often used with to,” meaning that you would “log on to” a computer rather than “log onto” it.  There isn’t a single dictionary on that lists “log onto” or “log into.”  However, in usage “onto” and “into” are fairly strong.  On Google, “you log on to” versus “you log onto” is 364,000 to 187,000.  “You log in to” versus “you log into” is 549,000 to 488,000.

The log, I assume, is a list of comings and goings that is maintained inside the computer by a digital version of the hard-studying kid who looks up from his anthropology book, or the Russian grandpa who looks up from his newspaper, and takes your ID at the reception desk of a hi-tech company.  The guy logs you in, or you log yourself in.  He might also log the hourly appearance of the security patrol or the results of a test of the PA system.  In all these cases, the verb “log” is used transitively; that is, it has an object.

Intransitively, with no object, if you’re logging then you must be cutting down trees — except if the word is part of a two-word verb with a distinct meaning of its own, and the only ones existing are “log on,” “log in,” “log off,” and “log out.”

Who decided that “into” and “onto” don’t qualify?  I think it’s a vulnerable tradition, and by violating it you wouldn’t knock the fiddler off the roof.  I wasn’t in the system before, but I’m in the system now.  How did I get into it?  I logged into it.  Granted, the idea of logging as a means of changing position isn’t generally applicable.  You can’t log from the parking lot into the mall.  But the dictionaries list “log on” and “log in” as confined to computing, and maybe some day they will list “log onto” and “log into” in the same way.

Or not.  Not every usage gets its logical extensions legitimized.  After the noun “mouse” was accepted for the computer’s pointing device (called a “puck” in a previous incarnation), there was still resistance to calling two of them “mice.”  And remember what Leo Robin wrote:  “he's your guy when stocks are high, but beware when they start to descend.  It’s then that those louses go back to their spouses.  Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”  Louses.  The plural “lice” never got applied to that meaning of the word.

Meanwhile, I’ve written to telling them that “re-logon” should be “log back on.”  I’ll let you know if I receive an answer.

Comments and questions are welcome: ]]

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.