Yesterday a question arose from the Peanut Gallery about whether it was acceptable to use “and/or” in technical writing. And/or is a phrase used to indicate that one or more of the stated options may pertain or occur. It is sometimes necessary in legal documents or business agreements, but just clutters up other writing. Using “and” or “or” by itself will almost always suffice.
When using the word “or,” the goal should be to clarify whether the choice is inclusive or exclusive. Consider the choice “A or B.”
Inclusive: “A and/or B” would mean “A or B, or both.”
Exclusive: “Either A or B” would mean one or the other, but not both.
Choosing such small words can make a big difference.
In the legal profession, a reader of a contract could interpret “and/or” as “and” or “or,” whichever suits him or her best. If a check is made out to “Mr. Zed and/or Mrs. Zed,” do both of them have to endorse the check to cash it, or could either one do it alone? Such sloppy specifications can lead to problems, so it’s always best to slash the slashes and clarify.
Jack Lynch, associate professor of English at Rutgers University and author of The English Language: A User’s Guide, opines: “Slashes are far too common, and almost always betray a lazy thinker; by yoking two words together with a slash, the writer tells us the words are related, but he or she doesn’t know how. Replace the slash with ‘and’ or ‘or.’ In a phrase such as ‘Gulliver encounters people much bigger/smaller than he is,’ write ‘Gulliver encounters people much bigger or smaller than he is.’ Instead of ‘his/her,’ write ‘his or her.’ Find the right conjunction.”