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What About and/or?
Our recent article about the slash (/) garnered interesting responses, none more fascinating than the email informing us that in several English-speaking
countries, “slash” is a raunchy slang term.
A couple of readers inquired about and/or, for obvious reasons. Grammar books generally disregard the slash, but most of them have a lot to say
In the 1920s the renowned English scholar H.W. Fowler dismissed and/or as an “ugly device” that may be “common and convenient in
some kinds of official, legal, and business documents, but should not be allowed outside them.” Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style says and/or “damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.” Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage calls and/or an “ungraceful expression” that “has no right to intrude in ordinary prose.”
Several authorities recommend replacing and/or with or alone. As Follett points out, “generally or includes and.
The weatherman’s snow or sleet tomorrow is no guarantee that we shall have only the one or the other.” The following contemporary
sentences could substitute or for and/or with no appreciable change in meaning: “Have you forgotten your user name and/or password?” “Candidates can submit new and/or additional documentation.”
However in certain sentences, or by itself cannot replace and/or, as seen in this example from Theodore M. Bernstein’s The Careful Writer: “The law allows a $25 fine and/or thirty days in jail.” Fowler offers a straightforward alternative: “x or y or both of them.” Let’s try it with Bernstein’s sentence: “The law allows a $25 fine or thirty days in jail or
both.” Problem solved.
Some and/or sentences cannot be justified under any circumstances. Consider this one, courtesy of a grammar website: “You can get to the
campus for this morning’s meeting on a bike and/or in a car.” Did you catch it? You can take a bike or a car but you wouldn’t
take both, so there is no excuse for the and/.
The slash these days is a shiny toy that everyone wants to play with. This may explain in part why and/or, with its ersatz air of authority, is
more popular than ever. The culture’s bewildering infatuation with slash formations turns off a lot of writers, who go to great lengths to
avoid them. Nonetheless, if in the course of your own writing you find one of those rare occasions that a slash is called for, by all means use it.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Can you banish and/or from these sentences? Suggested alternatives are below.
1. No, Virginia, having more people and/or businesses will not get you lower taxes.
2. Consider whether the audience will be able to view and/or understand the illustration easily.
3. Here is how to change your password and/or update your email address.
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Words change meaning over time in ways that might surprise you. We sometimes notice words changing meaning under our noses, and it can be disconcerting. How in the world are we all going to communicate effectively if we allow words to shift in meaning like that?
This week, courtesy of language historian Anne Curzan, we continue our run of a small sampling of words that you may not have realized did not always mean what they mean today.
1. Wench: A shortened form of the Old English word wenchel (which referred to children of either sex), the word wench used to mean “female child” before it came to be used to refer to female servants—and more pejoratively to wanton women.
2. Fathom: It can be hard to fathom how this verb moved from meaning “to encircle with one’s arms” to meaning “to understand after much thought.” Here’s the scoop: One’s outstretched arms can be used as a measurement (a fathom), and once you have fathoms, you can use a fathom line to measure the depth of water. Think metaphorically and fathoming becomes about getting to the bottom of things.
3. Clue: Centuries ago, a clue (or clew) was a ball of yarn. Think about threading your way through a maze and you’ll see how we got from yarn to key bits of evidence that help us solve things.
Pop Quiz Answers
1. No, Virginia, having more people or businesses will not get you lower taxes.
2. Consider whether the audience will be able to view and understand the illustration easily.
3. Here is how to change your password, update your email address, or both.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.