Take the phrase "a joint FBI-SFPD task force" for example. According to my boss, a slash can stand in for the hyphen. I tend to disagree. Is this grammatically correct? Stylistically acceptable?

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    It is no more grammatically correct than it is grammatically incorrect, for no matter of punctuation is ever one of grammar nor vice versa. Moreover, that should be not a hyphen but an en dash. – tchrist Aug 28 '15 at 17:18
  • Agreeing with @tchrist here, I'd add that "stylistically acceptable" concerns whether some authority accepts the style, and your boss is evidently in authority. So whatever he says, goes. – Greg Lee Aug 28 '15 at 17:23
  • @tchrist Why an en-dash and not a hyphen? Also, thank you for correcting my misuse of grammar. – alexbravowest Aug 28 '15 at 17:25
  • The en dash is preferred for things of, um, equal standing, like a Bose–Einstein condensate or a London–New York flight. Ug sorry, that’s not the best way to phrase it. I think we have questions about that here somewhere though. – tchrist Aug 28 '15 at 17:32
  • Chicago Manual of Style 6.80: The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds (see 7.78) ... An abbreviated compound is treated as a single word, so a hyphen, not an en dash, is used in such phrases as “US-Canadian relations” (Chicago’s sense of the en dash does not extend to between). – alexbravowest Aug 28 '15 at 17:33

Since you cited (in a comment) a Chicago Manual of Style guideline regarding when to use en-dashes, you may be interested in Chicago's views about when using slashes is acceptable. From Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003), here is the pertinent entry:

6.112 Technical use. A slash is used in certain contexts to mean and.

[Examples:] an insertion/deletion mutation, a Jekyll/Hyde personality, an MD/PhD student

To the extent that "a joint FBI/SFPD task force" resembles "a Jekyll/Hyde personality," your boss has Chicago's blessing to use a slash in place of a hyphen (or en-dash) between FBI and SFPD.

On the other hand, if you're looking for support in opposing use of a slash there, you may prefer to cite the views of Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, second edition (2003):

Virgule [/]. Known popularly as the "slash," arcanely as the "solidus," and somewhere in between as the "diagonal," the virgule is a mark that doesn't appear much in first-rate writing. Some writers use it to mean "per" {50 words/minute}. Others use it to mean "or" {and/or} or "and" {every employee/independent contractor must complete form XJ42A}. Still others use it to indicate a vague disjunction in which it's not quite an or {the novel/novella distinction}. In this last use, the en-dash is usually a better choice. [Cross reference omitted.] In all these uses, there's almost always a better choice than the virgule. Use it as a last resort.

Garner concedes Chicago's point that the slash is used in situations like "joint FBI/SFPD task force," but he leaves no doubt as to his low opinion of that usage. I don't share his aesthetic objection to the slash—particularly in situations where the sense to be conveyed is one of "vague disjunction in which it's not quite an or"—but if you do, you have an ally in Garner.

  • Chicago Manual of Style is not very good at molecular genetics. "an insertion/deletion mutation" is a single mutation which is either an insertion (an additional unit) or deletion (removal of a unit). It cannot be both. So in that particular context the slash is used for OR not AND. (But actually people often use the neologism, ‘indels.) – David May 22 '16 at 17:09
  • So, to summarise, the hyphen always means "and", while the slash could mean "and" or "or". – Max Williams Jul 22 '16 at 12:35

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