[lit-ideas] Re: The Genealogy of Disjunction

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 30 May 2015 16:11:40 +0200

Hm... considering Auden's use of "must" it would seem that he is exhorting
us to love each other. He knows that loving each other is not easy for us,
but presumably it is still preferable to dying. Thus, it doesn't seem
likely that he wants to say that we will die anyway. (The exhortation would
hardly be very effective

On Sat, May 30, 2015 at 3:21 PM, Redacted sender Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx for
DMARC <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

In a message dated 5/30/2015 3:47:26 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
I sense something wrong. Somewhere.

In the mid-1950s Auden began to refuse permission to editors who asked to
reprint the poem "September 1, 1939" ("I sit in one of the dives") in

In 1955, Auden did allow Oscar Williams to include it complete in The New
Pocket Anthology of American Verse, but altered the most famous line to
read "We must love one another and die." (*).



(*) Apparently, Oscar Williams (**) had suggested that the line would best

We must love another another and/or die.


"Dear Wystan,

Thank you for your letter. I see the corrections, and wonder if you would
consider mine:

"We must love one another and/or die."

This seems to be a good compromise in your doubts about whether to use "or"
or "and".

You know, after all" "and/or" IS a grammatical 'conjunction', shall we
say, used to indicate that one or more of the cases it connects may

For example, the sentence "He will eat cake, pie, and/or brownies"
indicates that although the person may eat any of the three listed
desserts, the
choices are not exclusive; the person may eat one, two, or all three of the

I'm sure that's what you are more or less meaning by correcting "We must
love one another or die" to "We must love one another and die".

I like "and/or". It is used to describe the precise "or" in logic and
mathematics, while an "or" in spoken language might indicate inclusive or
exclusive or, as you are well aware. This may confuse literary critics of

Granted, "and/or" has been used in official, legal and business documents
since the mid-19th century, even if evidence of broader use appears in the
20th century, to which your poem belongs.

You must have heard some references on English usage strongly criticize it.

Fowler, for one, in his English Usage describes it as "ugly" but surely
ugliness is in the eye of Fowler.

Strunk and White, too, say that it "damages a sentence and often leads to
confusion or ambiguity" but ambiguity, as Empson notes, is a GOOD thing
it comes to poetry, no?

For the record, the Chicago Manual of Style calls it "Janus-faced", which I
thought you'd like.

Two alternatives have been proposed for a phrase meaning "x and/or y".
You'll excuse this long missive, but it's Sunday!

The first alternative is to replace it with "x or y or both".

The second is to simply use "x or y", relying on context to determine
whether the "or" here is intended to be inclusive or exclusive.

The word "and/or" either can be used to convey mutual exclusivity.

When using either as a conjunction, it can be applied]to more than two
elements in a series.

Thus, to use my previous example -- not yours --

"He will eat either cake, pie, or brownies"

appropriately indicates that the choices are mutually exclusive.

If the function of or is clear from the context, it is not necessary,
you'll grant, to use either as a conjunction:

Person 1: You may select one item for dessert.
Person 2: What are my choices?
Person 1: You may eat cake, pie, or brownies.

Since you know lawyers (Hart is teaching conceptual analysis to them at
Oxford, your alma mater), the phrase has come under criticism in both
and British courts. But should we take that criticism seriously?

Some American judges have called "and/or" a "freakish fad," an
"accuracy-destroying symbol," and "meaningless."

In a Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion from 1935 (a few years before you
wrote your poem), Justice Fowler referred to it as "that befuddling,
thing, that Janus-faced verbal monstrosity, neither word nor phrase, the
child of a brain of someone too lazy or too dull to know what he did

The Kentucky Supreme Court said it was a "much-condemned
conjunctive-disjunctive crutch of sloppy thinkers."

On top of things, the Florida Supreme Court has held that use of and/or
results in a nullity, stating (I quote verbatim): "we take our position
that distinguished company of lawyers who have condemned its use. It is one
of those inexcusable barbarisms which were sired by indolence and damned
indifference, and has no more place in legal terminology than the
vernacular of Uncle Remus has in Holy Writ. I am unable to divine how such
senseless jargon becomes current. The coiner of it certainly had no
for terse and concise law English."

However, other authorities point out that it is usually quite unambiguous,
and can be the most efficient way to indicate inclusive or -- which is what
you need, Wystan.

Adams and Kaye said, "It does, after all, have a specific meaning—X and/or
Y means X or Y or both."

It is particularly damaging in legal writing, some allege, granted, because
a bad-faith reader of a contract can supposedly pick whichever suits him
or her, the and or the or.

Courts called on to interpret it have applied a wide variety of standards,
with little agreement.

Anyway, hope this finds you well,




Fowler, H.W. A dictionary of modern English usage (2nd ed., rev. by Sir
Ernest Gowers. ed.). Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press.
Strunk, Jr., W. and E. White, Elements of style (3rd ed.). New York:
Good usage versus common usage. The Chicago Manual of Style Online (16th
ed.). University of Chicago Press.
The American Heritage Book of English Usage. "Grammar: Traditional Rules,
Word Order, Agreement, and Case"
Bryan A., Garner. Garner on Language and Writing: Selected Essays and
Speeches of Bryan A. Garner. American Bar Association.
In the case of Employers Mutual Liability Insurance Co. v. Tollefson, 263
N.W. 376 at 377 (1935).
Cochrane v. Fla. E. Coast Rwy. Co., 145 So. 217 (1932). See also, Henry P.
Trawick, Jr., Florida Practice & Procedure § 6:7 (2011-2012).
Adams, K. and Kaye. A. "Revisiting the ambiguity of "and" and "or" in
legal drafting". St. John's Law Review.
Garner, B. "Looking for words to kill? Start with these." Student Lawyer
35.1, 12-14. American Bar Association.
Shuy, R. "Legal uses of and/or…or something". Cited works include David
Mellinkoff, The Language of the Law (Little Brown) and Larry Solan, The
Language of Judges (Chicago).

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