Sunday, March 13, 2005

The and/or abomination

I must have been feeling persnickety today because I just kept finding things in the paper. One of my least favorite is the use of and/or, especially with potential court sentences. It's a bureaucratic abomination usually misused. (Yes, there can be a few uses for it, but they're as rare as a snowball on an August day in South Carolina.)

The paper this morning told us: Anyone else convicted in federal court of possessing the synthetic male hormone can receive up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine.

And that: Illegally selling streoids carries a maximum penalty of five years and/or a $250,000 fine.

And: Prescribing steroids for that purpose is a felony punishable by up to five years and/or fines of $5,000 for the first offense.

Wrong on all counts, your honor. If a person can get a fine and jail, then that is the maximum, and and is the correct word to use. So it would be a maximum penalty of five years and a $250,000 fine for instance.

If you can get one or the other, then use or. ...a felony punishable by up to five years or fines of $5,000 for the first offense.

If you absolutely must specify that a person can get one or the other -- or both (and I'd be throwing the caution flag every time I saw that), then say it that way: a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, fines of $5,000, or both.

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