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I don't want to get into the proper use of the phrase 'and/or', but rather to investigate the use of the forward slash between other words. Examples:

  • I have an interview with him/her this afternoon.
  • He has a large binder/notebook.

And even separating just letters:

  • I connected the i/o ports. (input/ouput)
  • Mark the field as n/a. (not applicable)
  • I did it w/o her help. (without)

It seems as thought the forward slash can be used to indicate an option, display ambiguity, shorten 2 words and shorten 1 word (and others).

Is it OK to use a slash to separate these words/letters (yes, that was intended), or is it better to explicitly say 'his or her'? One more thing, is it correct to 'chain' these phrases together? I'm horrible with examples but here's one:

  • I don't open letters/mail that aren't/isn't addressed to me.
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I myself am prone to use the slash when/if I can't be bothered to find a better way to put things, and/or haven't got time to think about it. As @Neil Coffey says, it's basically 'style', that may depend on context - are you writing a romantic love poem, or a comment on EL&U, for example? –  FumbleFingers Jul 13 '11 at 20:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As I often say in response to these questions, it's not obvious what form of "OK"-ness you're looking for in asking this. It's really a stylistic decision. If you're writing to a particular style guide, do what the style guide says in this respect. If what you are writing will be edited by somebody, let them decide what to do. Otherwise (or if your editor/style guide has no opinion on the matter), decide if you like the slash or not and use it if you do...

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For writing regular texts, you should try to avoid slashes. Use them if you must, but they do put a dent in the flow of the sentence so it's easier to read a sentence without it.

Some uses are well known (at least for a specific target audience), for example i/o for input/output, so using that can actually make the text easier to read.

Others, like w/o as an abbreviation for without is just for saving space or saving keypresses, common in space limited digital communication like SMS messages. You should avoid those, unless you are after that exact impression.

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Do you want casual, even sloppy, writing, or precise, more elegant writing? I prefer precise, if I can't always achieve elegance.

  • This is sloppy: "He has a large binder/notebook." Well, decide if you want to call it a binder or a notebook. It could even be a binder notebook, in which binder modifies notebook and tells us what kind of notebook it is.
  • "They rode the streetcar/tram." Just plain laziness: is it a streetcar or a tram? You decide.
  • As for and/or, it is used in legal briefs, but not in good writing. "Do you want apples or oranges or both?" Not "apples and/or oranges."
  • If you want to say "or" use "or" and not a slash. "He has a large binder or notebook."

Good writing is worth your time. If you are trying to express yourself in words, don't ever say you "can't be bothered."

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I see you rapidly move from the 'casual' label to the 'sloppy / lazy' ones. I couldn't decide between the US usages 'streetcar' and 'tram', and would use the slash to show my ignorance. An 'or' here could be read as meaning 'a streetcar (also known as a tram)'. The slash intentionally jolts, hopefully prompting deeper analysis. I'm not sure about the strict classifications of binders and notebooks either; a 'binder' apparently may be – but equally may not be – a type of notebook. Historically, hybrids could be indicated by slashes (eg the reaper/binder in agriculture).... –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 at 7:24
    
So the slash, where precise classification (with a choice of 2 classes) is not easy, can be a useful device. On the other hand, I'm with you when you say that elegance is [one] worthwhile aim, and that casual writing doesn't usually achieve this. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 at 7:27

It certainly would be, if there were such a thing as a "forward slash" :P

(Just call it a "slash")

It's one of the few things that's common to just about all known written languages, probably because it's a natural mark to make by hand for the purpose.

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2  
As a software developer it's important to differentiate between forward slash and backslash :P –  whoabackoff Jul 13 '11 at 19:30
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Er, yes, so that's why we have different words for them: "slash" and "backslash" -- is this "forward slash" a third option? –  Mark Wallace Jul 13 '11 at 19:39
    
I wonder if it's common to many languages because languages copy each other's writing systems...? –  Neil Coffey Jul 13 '11 at 19:45
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@Mark Wallace, I vote we don't. 'Forward slash' is a correct alternative for 'slash' to avoid any possible confusion with 'backslash'. –  whoabackoff Jul 13 '11 at 19:49
1  
There is no term for "forward slash" in swedish, but if there were, I would have used it many times. For example when instructing someone: "Type a slash." ... "No, a forward slash." Now I have to make do with "the other slash". –  Guffa Jul 13 '11 at 21:40

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