Using and/or

Subject: Using and/or
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 10:04:46 -0600

Kevin Feeman pondered the eternal question of whether 'tis proper to
use "And/Or" in documentation.

Saying "and/or" when you mean "one, the other, or both" is one of
those idiomatic uses that is so widespread you might as well just
grin and bear it.... except that as an editor, I usually grimace and
try to change it. It's not so much the fact that many people
consider the phrase inelegant in the extreme (sometimes I do,
sometimes I don't) or that it's inevitably confusing (it isn't
always), but rather the fact that it can occasionally mislead. More
than once, I've seen someone ask "Which do you mean... and, or, or
some unholy combination of both?"

One common solution is to simply say "or", since this implicitly
includes the possibility of "and" as well. That's true in principle,
but in practice, you're fighting widespread usage: a general audience
more commonly thinks that "or" represents "one or the other and not
both". So the least ambiguous solution is to come right out and say
"choose A, B, or some combination of both A and B".
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

When an idea is wanting, a word can always be found to take its place.--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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