Arrant Pedantry


On Visual Thesaurus: “Clear and/or Unclear”

And/or is a surprisingly contentious little conjunction. Some lawyers love it, but most editors hate it—and many judges hate it too. Find out what the problem is in my newest post on Visual Thesaurus, “Clear and/or Unclear”.

6 Responses to On Visual Thesaurus: “Clear and/or Unclear”

  1. supplementfacts says:

    Hey, I just read and there’s something I don’t understand: how exactly does #11 count as a mistake? It may be mean to put people down, but it doesn’t seem to betray any ignorance of linguistic matters. Even an omniscient and infallible linguist might be so cantankerous as to call someone an uneducated chimp who deserves to be crucified for messing up subject-verb agreement.

    So what gives? Is #11 really a mistake, or are you mixing moral lessons in with your linguistics?

  2. You caught me—I’m using a rather loose definition of “mistake”. But note that I never said that all those mistakes betray ignorance of linguistic matters. (Though I think that people who use grammar to put others down are usually ignorant of linguistic matters.)

    Also, I can’t say that I’ve ever met a linguist who would call someone an uneducated chimp or suggest that they be crucified for messing up subject-verb agreement.

    And of course I’m mixing moral lessons in. That was kind of the point of the post. That is, the people who correct others’ mistakes and think they have the moral and intellectual high ground actually don’t.

  3. Mark Stolzoff says:

    You should always be able to click the top of a webpage (The header) and end up back at home, the inability to do so on your blog is maddening., please fix

  4. Mark: Thanks for pointing that out. When I changed blog themes a little while ago, apparently I lost that. The Home button on the navigation bar still worked, of course, but it’s nice to have something big and obvious to click on. I’ve restored the link.

  5. And/or used to indicate that either or both of the items connected by it are involved. And/or is widely used in legal and business writing. Its use in general writing to mean “one or the other or both” is acceptable but often sounds stilted. It used to join terms when either one or the other or both is indicated: passports and/or other means of identification. Many people think that and/or is only acceptable in legal and commercial contexts. In other contexts, it is better to use or both: some alcoholics lose their jobs or their driving licences or both (not their jobs and/or their driving licences) used to imply that either or both of the things mentioned may be affected or involved.
    See separate – AND(

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