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Throughput is defined in the same dictionary as " the amount of material put through a process in a given period, as by a computer."

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word has been in use far longer than computers have been with us. It means, OED says, "energy, activity, capacity for or progress at work." This doesn't help a lot, but OED gives some wonderful examples (starting from 1808) including this from B. Fergusson's "Watery Maze" of 1961: "The drains … were unable to cope with the 'through-put,' as industrialists say, of more than eighteen lavatories."

Using these definitions, one could conclude that there is little if any difference between the two words. But throughput, it seems, has become more closely aligned to computer terminology. Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age from the editors of Wired magazine defines it simply as "The rate at which data is transferred or at which a processor can perform jobs."

My best advice would be: use output in most noncomputer references and follow Wired when you stray onto the electronic field.

Incidentally, Rosie was enchanted to see the following entry on the page next to Wired's definition of throughput: "utilize: lame replacement for 'use.' " Amen.

Check the Mail

Another reader asks if the word e-mail (email? E-mail? Email?) is singular or plural. The answer to this is "both." Like mail, if it is used as a collective it should be "I received some e-mail."

But mail doesn't gracefully break up into units so that you could say, "I received 900 mails today." If you want to say how many components make up your e-mail, you should say "I received 900 trash e-mails today." This is probably because e-mail stands for electronic messages. So if you wish to be completely correct, you might consider "I received 900 trash electronic messages today."

Let Rosie hear from you by mail (Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230; by e-mail, repps@styleweekly.com; or by fax, 804-355-9089)

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