When an art museum's wall text says "1888/90" does it mean that it took 2 years for the artist to make the work, or does it mean that the work was made at some point during that two-year period, but the exact year of creation cannot be ascertained? If the wall label says "1888-90" does that mean something different than 1888/90?

  • 5
    Ask the museum.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 26, 2022 at 22:05
  • It may vary between country/institution/etc, so I'm reluctant to make a general statement, but for well-known artworks you should be able to find the precise history of their creation. Note that the creation of an artwork is often complex, due to interruptions, later modifications, reworking, repairs, producing copies, reproducing lost works, etc, as well as uncertainties about dates.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 27, 2022 at 8:30
  • 1
    Such use of the slash is deplored by some, as it has more than one reading. One is 'and/or'. Jul 27, 2022 at 11:57
  • 3
    The difference is that 1888-90 means 1798, whereas 1888/90 means 20.977777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777... :)
    – tchrist
    Jul 27, 2022 at 16:22
  • 3
    In this case I don't think there's any difference, it's just the curator's style decision.
    – Barmar
    Jul 27, 2022 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


I would expect 1888/90 to indicate uncertainty within an interval, that is, when the exact date within the interval is unknown, and 1888-90 to indicate with certainty that the work was produced during a period.

For example, if a sketch were made in an afternoon in a city where the artist resided for two years, but no one could document exactly which afternoon within the interval from 1888 to 1890, then you would want the first form to avoid misleading the reader into thinking that the sketch took two years to complete.

The international standard for writing dates and times, ISO 8601, uses the solidus “/” to indicate time intervals. A museum might hew to this standard.

  • 3
    This would be a reasonable convention to adopt, but it is not the only possible one, so one cannot be certain that it has been adopted in a particular setting. For example somebody might adopt an alternative convention of writing 1888/90 to indicate a relatively continuous period and 1888-90 to indicate that the work was done on and off in these years. Or one might use 1888/90 to indicate that the work was done in either 1888 or 1890, but not 1889.
    – jsw29
    Aug 27, 2022 at 16:15
  • @jsw29 certainly, syntax is a fickle mistress after all, but the convention I'm using is the one that hews to an international standard
    – djs
    Aug 31, 2022 at 12:43
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    But Wikipedia has, contrastingly, 'In English, a range marked by a slash often has a separate meaning from one marked by a dash or hyphen. "[It happened sometime during the night of 24/25 December" would mark the time shared by both days (i.e., the night from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning) rather than the time made up by both days together, which would be written "24–25 December" .' Note that the first refers to a period partly overlapping both specified periods, while the second does not indicate whether 'sometime during' or 'throughout' the whole timespan is meant. Apr 24, 2023 at 10:27
  • Examples like 1660/61 are often used in cases where there were different calendars in use or different possible start dates for the year depending on different (national) conventions. That wouldn't apply here though. Sometimes there may be two possible dates for an event, e.g. if two sources give different dates, or it's inferred from other things like an Olympiad or celestial event, though Wikipedia recommends "or" rather than "/". But the trouble with conventions is there's so many of them, all different.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 22, 2023 at 9:31
  • I've checked the linked article, and the solidus is merely stated to be the most usual interval indicator. Other possibilities are mentioned. Aug 22, 2023 at 11:05

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