Forgive us: this is our plea for common sense, good writing, and clarity.

Our nomination for Room 101 is the grammatical conjunction abomination ‘and/or’.

Long a favourite (although often criticised) term of the legal profession, we’ve noticed that it seems to be slipping quietly into more mainstream use. But no more! Its progress must be stopped – for our sanity, if nothing else.

Now, we know there are those, particularly in the legal sector, who will claim that and/or conveys a specific meaning that is vital to an accurate legal interpretation.

Namely, and/or means that the items can be taken either together or as alternatives.

That might be true, but it still doesn’t justify its use. Not least because

a) and/or is not a real world, and
b) the same meaning can be explained more clearly in other ways, such as ‘X or Y or both’.

Sloppy writing suggests sloppy thinking

There’s also a third point, which is the one that really grates. In most cases, particularly in non-legal contexts, ‘and’ or ‘or’ alone would do the job just as well. But instead of thinking about the meaning of what they actually want to say and choosing the best words to say it, the writer has taken the lazy decision to cover all the options with and/or.

Take this example: No food and/or drink allowed.

Presumably the intended meaning is that food or drink or both are not allowed.

But with a little more thought, the same meaning could be conveyed with ‘or’ alone: No food or drink allowed.

Using ‘or’ in no way suggests that food on its own is not allowed; drink on its own is not allowed; but both together are fine.

We’re not alone in our thinking.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage says: “First recorded in the mid-19th century in legal contexts, and still employed from time to time in legal documents, and/or verges on the inelegant… The more comfortable way of expressing the same idea is to use ‘X or Y or both’, or, in many contexts, just ‘or’.

The Chicago Manual of Style, meanwhile, is stronger in its condemnation: “Avoid this Janus-faced term. It can often be replaced by and or or with no loss in meaning. Where it seems needed {take a sleeping pill and/or a warm drink}, try or … or both {take a sleeping pill or a warm drink, or both}.”

Condemned by the courts

‘And/or’ is a phrase that has come under fire for almost 100 years in courts on both sides of the Atlantic.

As far back as 1932, Justice Terrell of the Florida Supreme Court said: “We take our position with that distinguished company of lawyers who have condemned its use. It is one of those inexcusable barbarisms which was sired by indolence and dammed by indifference, and has no more place in legal terminology than the vernacular of Uncle Remus has in Holy Writ.”

And more recently, the judge in St Clair v Timtalla Pty Ltd Anor (No 2), [2010] QSC 480 said, at para 11: “The pleading is replete with the device ‘and/or’ which was accurately described by Viscount Simon . . . as the “Bastard conjunction” which was the “commercial courts contribution to basic English”. The term has generally been regarded as unacceptable in commercial documents and more so in pleadings.

Certain uncertainty

Ironically, as Ted Tjaden explains in this excellent post on the topic, in a profession where certainty is a treasured asset, the introduction of and/or into a sentence usually brings only confusion or doubt (see what we did there?).

Legal writing expert Bryan A. Garner, in The Elements of Legal Style, explains that the term can be particularly harmful because it leaves open the possibility of the reader arguing for which suits them, the and or the or.

He urges writers to “banish from your working vocabulary this much condemned conjunctive-disjunctive crutch of sloppy thinkers”.

Another authority on legal writing, Robert Dick, in Legal Drafting in Plain Language, says:

Never use ‘and/or.’ This linguistic aberration is dealt with harshly by the courts… It has been promulgated largely by those who either have not taken the trouble to decide, or cannot make up their minds, which of the two words they mean.”

We couldn’t agree more.

If we keep seeing it crop up in documents, we might scream and/or cry.