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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Drama of “And” and “Or”

In his blog article, Rich Adin discusses the potential confusion among readers when they encounter the legalistic shorthand conjunction of and/or.

He writes:

It isn’t that and/or isn’t sometimes correct; rather, it has become a way for an author to fudge. Basically and/or adds drama to a manuscript because it leaves the reader wondering what precisely is meant (assuming the reader thinks about it at all). And/or gives at least two options, both of which are true, both of which should be exclusive of the other.
Adin does not consider that drama to be a benefit to readers. Instead, it's a benefit to lazy writers who don't take the time and effort to state clearly what they mean.

I include a brief item in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual on this vague shortcut:

and/or Jargon. Avoid this ambiguous, awkward, overused phrase. Change: Use gold and/or purple beads in your project. To: Use gold beads or purple beads or both colors in your project. Or simply use or alone. 
Following an idea in Adin's blog, I plan to add an example to my manual entry that emphasizes the distinction between the choices (using both and either):
Use both gold beads and purple beads in your project, or use either gold beads or purple beads.
When rephrasing a sentence to eliminate and/or, your sentence is likely to get longer. Depending on the choices you're describing, breaking the sentence into two simple sentences could be even more effective. But the resulting clarity to readers is more valuable than giving readers a short sentence.

Adin's article is featured today, March 13, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

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