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 12:53:33 -0600

I'm resending this because I got a message bounce. Apologies if
you see this twice!

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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