Pity the poor virgule

« previous post | next post »

Today is National Punctuation Day and once again the poor little virgule/slash gets short shrift. Let us celebrate/honor the comma, the full stop/period, the exclamation mark/point, the question mark, and even the semi-colon (which I’ve been learning to use correctly ever since a surgeon removed half on my colon a couple years ago).

But who will celebrate/honor the lowly virgule? Not the good folks from Pinole, California, who seem to be in charge/run/oversee National Punctuation Day ®.

Pity the poor vigule, left out once again. What will habitual users of and/or do now? Lawyers are particularly fond of it even though, as Larry Solan reports in his book, The Language of Judges, it can cause a lot of grief. He refers to the “and/or rule” (pp. 45-46). "And" generally means "and" and "or" generally is construed disjunctively, as meaning “either/or.” Larry goes on to say that the “and/or” rule is generally applied to three sets of circumstances.

1. When the connector is within the scope of some logical operator, such as a negative, there may be difficulty in interpreting the connector’s meaning because of sorting out the scope of the various terms.
2. While logicians use the word to mean “and/or,” in natural language it frequently means one but not both of two items.
3. Some cases involve no linguistic problem at all, making application of the “and/or” rule incoherent from any doctrinal point of view.

Complicated, eh? Maybe it’s better not to use it at all.

Comments are closed.