Everybody is using those phrases but I've never asked that question. What is really behind the words Online and Offline?

As an extension I'm also asking:

Are those phrases still valid nowadays when you'd write "I'm online on ..."? Because you aren't directly connected. (I know that it could be, by just using a direct connection using only one cable as example, but by ignoring that the connection isn't direct - right?)

My thoughts about them:

On- or Offline is an abbreviation for the usage of saying "I'm (not) connected to the ethernet!" or "You could (not) phone me now, because I'm (not) in the line!".

The second example is referring to the past, where only one was able to phone someone at the time.

Please also note that I've read the wiki information and I've also looked them up inside dictionaries, so it won't be helpful seeing them as answer/comment...

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_and_offline These were originally defined states of (presumably mainframe) computers. Ready for use, or shut-down or otherwise out of service. More effort required in research, I think... Oct 5, 2016 at 14:40
  • I'm sorry if this question is lacking on formating and other stuff, but it's my first :) Oct 5, 2016 at 15:25
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    What is your question exactly? Have you looked up the words in a dictionary?
    – user3395
    Oct 5, 2016 at 15:28
  • Yes and I know what they are meaning and what their definition is. I've also read the wiki site. It only answers the "How are the phrases On- Offline build?" ("On the Line", because they are directly connected), but not "What is the definition of the meaning in that context of directly connected?" and "Are those terms still valid?". It's a bit complicated to define a question for my use case. :> Oct 5, 2016 at 15:37
  • Some feedback on your question - You pose it as a discussion, and place your assumptions (which are suspect, else you wouldn't be asking) as your own answer to the implicit question. It would be clearer if you started by asking if these terms are still current, and then justify your concern. On a forum, it would have worked - but this isn't a forum... Oct 5, 2016 at 16:06

1 Answer 1


Yes, these phrases are perfectly valid in modern parlance, both for computers or peripherals, and people. A system can be taken offline for maintenance:

maintenance requires taking your site offline for at least a few minutes

search: offline for maintenance which oddly dropped on ngram in 1992, but then became quite a common phrase.

Most generally, online just means you're able to process requests or do work - in the context of an engineering environment maybe that means you've had a couple of cups of coffee since getting up, not necessarily that you're sitting in front of a terminal (because the concept of being always connected it taken for granted in some communities).

Since the internet started, direct connection has never been relevant - everything connects by switched networks, even landline calls. The concept of online/offline relates more to being enabled than connected (in computing contexts for the past few decades).

  • That is exactly what I was looking for! +1 for the coffee and not mentioning the wiki link! Oct 5, 2016 at 15:56

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