In 1932 the American Bar Association Journal* had an editorial with the title ‘And/or’ in which the use of ‘and/or’ in legal drafting was questioned. In this editorial ‘and/or’ is described as an ‘accuracy-destroying symbol’ and ‘a device for the encouragement of mental laziness’. This editorial sparked a debate on the use of ‘and/or’ which is still going on today with the two sides sometimes aptly named the ‘Andorians’ and the ‘anti-Andorians.’
As far as Plain Language is concerned today, the general guideline is to avoid the use of ‘and/or’ as far as possible. It might save a few words, but the feeling is that it is inherently ambiguous. In most cases it simply means either ‘and’ or ‘or’. For clarity use the appropriate one.
As it stands ‘and/or’ means ‘the one or the other or both’. In cases where that distinction is necessary, it is good practice to choose the unambiguous ‘the one or the other or both’. If you therefore find on the website of a hotel the information that ‘every room has a bath or a shower or both’ instead of ‘every room has a bath and/or a shower’, you as customer will clearly know what to expect.
*’Editorial’ American Bar Association Journal (1932)
This article was written by the Stellenbosch University Language Centre and Elizabeth de Stadler. It was placed in Consumer Law Review, December 2013.