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Today I heard somebody say:

This (technology) can be the difference between life or death.

And I winced.  While “life or death” can be used as an adjective (e.g., modifying “situation” or “decision”), I believe that “between X or Y” is wrong, because “between” should always be used with “and”. (Or an implied “and” , as in “between jobs”.)

Is “between X or Y” ever acceptable?

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    Imagined geometrically, it doesn't make sense to say "between X or Y," since it takes two points to establish line segment that falls between them.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 14, 2013 at 18:25

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You are in good company in wincing at between ... or.

Garner in Modern American Usage (p103) calls the construction "a misuse that probably results from confusion between between ... and and either ... or."

Follett in Modern American Usage (p120) calls the combination of between and or "misguided".

Fowler in Modern English Usage (p57) states: "where terms are separately specified, the one and only right connexion between those terms is and."

As to whether the combination is ever acceptable, Fowler states;

Extenuating circumstances can be pleaded only when one or each of the terms is a compound and has its parts connected by and.

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    … like choosing between strawberries and cream or peanut butter and fudge? Nov 14, 2013 at 18:41
  • @Scott. Yes, this is a good example of what Fowler meant.
    – Shoe
    Nov 14, 2013 at 18:51
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The Free Online Dictionary lists Life and Death as a variant of Life or Death.

To my mind, when we use words like difference between, the usage should be life and death.

Here are two different usages:

Cancer patient says he is being made to make life or death decision after health plan cancelled.
(Headline from a news website)

another way of saying this could be:

Cancer patient says he is being made to make a decision between life and death after health plan cancellation.

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    I did see the problem, however just forgot to fix it, while sorting other formatting issues.I appreciate your input nonetheless but would have preferred if you had edited it as well. Nov 14, 2013 at 18:13
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    Wanting people to fix one's mistakes instead of pointing them out is natural :) but I don't do edits during the first five minutes after another's edit Nov 14, 2013 at 18:29

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