Reader Thomas Gould asked me about use in drafting of the virgule, also known as the forward slash.
Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage has to say:
Some writers use [the virgule] 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. In all these uses, there’s almost always a better choice than the virgule. Use it as a last resort.
So the virgule is profoundly unclear. To that I’d add that if you want a given virgule to mean and or or, you’d have to take into account the rat’s nest that is the ambiguity associated with and and or.
So I say never use a virgule in drafting except on those rare occasions when and/or is the least-bad option (that’s something I discuss in MSCD 8.55) or if you need to state a fraction or an informal date (as in 3/17/08).
For what it’s worth, I haven’t found any litigation relating to use of the virgule in contracts. Most opinions addressing the meaning of the virgule deal with who was entitled to cash checks made payable to “[payee 1]/[payee 2].”
4 thoughts on “The Virgule, aka the Forward Slash”
As a side note, it’s intresting to me that the forward slash is called a “virgule” bearing in mind that “virgule” in French, which I assume is where the English use of “virgule” comes from, actually means “comma”…
I’m a college writing teacher who recently got an e-mail from someone interested in the use of a row of spaced, centered slashes “/ / / / /” to indicate “end of content on this page.” Are you familiar with any guidelines explaining this usage?
Dennis: Nope, that’s a new one to me. Ken