The Grammarphobia Blog

Basis points

Q: I work for a company where the word “basis” is pervasively misused as a shortcut for “based upon.” Example: “The results were disappointing, basis our quarterly report.” No matter how often I speak up, the misuse has become entrenched in the corporate vernacular.

A: We’ve found several complaints online about the prepositional use of the noun “basis” to mean based upon, regarding, in reference to, and so on, but the usage doesn’t seem very common—at least not yet.

This sense of “basis” isn’t standard English and apparently never has been. We couldn’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary or in any of the standard dictionaries we checked.

When the word “basis” entered English in the 16th century, it meant the bottom of something, like a foundation or a base.

Although English borrowed the word directly from Latin, the Romans borrowed it in turn from the Greek basis (a step).

The ultimate source, according to John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, is a reconstructed Indo-European root for going or stepping.

The English noun took on a figurative meaning—the main constituent or fundamental ingredient of something—at the beginning of the 17th century, according to citations in the OED.

Over the years, the word acquired other senses, including a basic principle and an underlying condition or state of affairs. But we see no basis for using it to mean based upon.

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