The ultimate email smackdown -or- “that Janus-faced verbal monstrosity”

Follwing are two emails I received one day about a month ago.    Names, etc. have been sanitized to protect the guilty.   Enjoy.

The opening shot

I have found that it is time for me to once again remind everyone to remove the grammatically incorrect and unnecessary “and/or” construction from use throughout ….  Sorry, but I’ll blame being a stickler on my Jesuit education!  I’ve recently seen “and/or” slip into … publications again after an absence of several years.  It seems as though it’s like a virus that never really goes away.  While this might seem like a quite minor issue, it’s something that we can easily correct and our members and our customers will appreciate the fact that we care even about the small details of our work.
“And/or” basically shows that writers don’t really know what they mean and they’re trying to cover up that fact.  They’re being sloppy.
1.  “and.”  Example. Charlotte and I will speak at the meeting.  This means that both of us will speak.
2.  “or.”  Example:  Charlotte or I will speak at the meeting.  This means that both may speak. It also means that only one of us might speak.  It intentionally leaves the situation ambiguous.
3.  “either….or.”  Example:  Either Charlotte or I will speak at the meeting.  This means that one of us will speak but it rules out both of us speaking.
So, please correctly use our language and avoid trendy (and sloppy) constructions.
Thanks, …

The Finishing Salvo

Hi all,

<name removed>’s quite proper note was prompted by my unfortunate use in an e-mail of the term that one commentator has called “that befuddling, nameless thing, that Janus-faced verbal monstrosity.”

To salve my professional conscience, please allow me to note the following in his jeremiad:

  1. excessively tentative phrasing (e.g., “It seems as though it’s like”);
  2. three compound sentences punctuated insufficiently; and
  3. a draconian sense of what constitutes trendiness. “And/or” arose in the legal discourse of the nineteenth century. I realize that this is practically yesterday on the Jesuitical timescale, but the term’s vintage is scarcely comparable to that of, say, “impact” (as a verb) or “a’ight.”

To be more positive, I do admire an author who knows the difference between “may” and “might” and who appreciates that good use of grammar is next to godliness.

Precisely and / or sincerely,

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