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Imagine that you want to write something about colors and you know that red or blue would work in that context. How do you write that? I've seen these styles:

  1. Red or blue
  2. Red, or blue
  3. Red/blue

Why is this sign used as a substitute for 'or'? I mean, in computer engineering, '|' represents 'or' and in mathematics, 'V' represents 'or'. Is there any reason why this symbol is chosen?

PS: The same case is true about '&' sign (ampersand).

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Mathematics and programming languages are not English, so they don't have to follow English rules or conventions, and English doesn't need to follow theirs either. A lot of computer symbols were chosen because those were the symbols available on the QWERTY keyboard. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 1 '11 at 12:47

3 Answers 3

According to Wikipedia, one reason may be:

The slash is also sometimes used to denote (often mutually exclusive) alternatives, such as in male/female.

So it's easy to see why that could be expanded, as a shorthand for or in the case of non-mutually exclusive items.

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I will just add that the vertical bar | is used in many programming languages to represent or because of convention. The symbol has many uses in math (absolute value, set-builder notation, etc), but to the best of my knowledge is not used for or.

The use of V for or comes from first-order logic. It's not actually the letter V, but that is often used in place of the union symbol. The union of A and B = A or B.

Finally the ampersand. This symbol is shorthand for et, which means and in Latin. In old books many printers use &c instead of etc, which, of course, stands for the the Latin phrase et cetera.

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The slash divides two things. eg. red/blue you are drawing a line, cutting between the two words like a sword cut.

But red-blue is joining the two words, like a rope tied between them.

The symbols in maths and computers are more varied they are a combination of what typewriter symbols were available on early keyboards and what had already been used in previous systems.

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Re “red-blue is joining the two words, like a rope tied between them”, just as well as that one might interpret red-blue as red minus blue, which is not a joining. –  jwpat7 Jan 17 '13 at 19:13

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