I chose this week’s word of the week for two reasons. First, I’ve been working on a big editing project for a corporate client — one with more than half dozen different writers — and each one of them used “upon”. For example: upon receipt of an assignment; upon closure of the file; upon contact with; etc.
The first few times I came across it, I unceremoniously changed “upon” to “on” — it just sounded more normal to me. After awhile, however, use of “upon” was so prevalent, I began wondering if there was some corporate policy to use “upon” instead of on. (I thought maybe they were using a style sheet I wasn’t aware of!)
At some point, I decided I had better look “upon” up, to make sure I could justify making the change. I’m pleased to say I was right, as Merriam.webster.com uses one word to define “upon”: on. Interestingly, it also notes that “upon” is from the 12th century (which explains why it sounded so stilted and, well, out-of-date to me).
Anyway — at the same time that I was lopping off the “up” on all those “upons”, I was working on another project where there was a strict length limit based on the number of characters (rather than words). I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to cut and paste text into the template we were working on and get an error message that read something like: “17 characters too long”. When that happens you find yourself carefully combing through the text, literally looking for ways of eliminating a character here and there. So, when you’re in that granular editing mode, you think to yourself — if I make that “upon” into “on”, I can save two characters!
So there you have it — two reasons you should think twice before using “upon”: you can save yourself characters and demonstrate to your readers that you’re no longer in the 12th century.