Etymology Usage

Stilted and/or stuffy

Q: Years ago I was taught that it is not necessary to use “and/or” because “and” is implicit in “or.” Yet I find that very sophisticated professionals use it regularly. I appreciate any insight that you would lend.

A: Sorry, but you were taught wrong: “and” is not implicit in “or.”

Although both conjunctions are used in many different ways, “and” usually combines words, phrases, clauses, and sentences, while “or” usually sets them apart.

We don’t like the term “and/or” and generally don’t use it in our writing. We prefer less stilted ways of connecting terms when one or the other or both could do.

We’ve had several items on the blog about “and/or,” including a posting last year, but your question prompts us to give the subject another look.

Pat, in her grammar and usage book Woe Is I, describes the term as “an ugly wrinkle.” She suggests that a stuffy sentence such as “Tubby, would you like apple pie and/or ice cream?” would be better as “Tubby, would you like apple pie, ice cream, or both?”

But this is a matter of style, not grammar or usage. And stuffed shirts have a right to use stuffy language.

A usage note in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) puts it this way: “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.”

Despite our stylistic objections, the formula “and/or” has been used in English since the mid-19th century.

The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary, from an 1855 report in a law journal, refers to a cargo of “sugar, molasses, and/or other lawful produce.”

Although some citations use “and/or” in a legal or business sense, there are several exceptions, including this one (minus the slash) from Nigella Lawson’s 1999 book How to Eat: “Grate in a cooking apple and or a quince.”

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