Try to Avoid Virgules

Sorry for the pretentiousism—I thought using “virgule” might make the headline more interesting. A virgule is a slash, (also unnecessarily called a forward slash.)

Most of the time when people use a slash, it’s because they don’t want to have to think and actually choose a word, so they use both, separated by a slash. Something like

Ask the manager/owner of the document about its history.

Here’s another example, perhaps a bit more legitimate:

Total pasture/range areas are proportionally divided by animal group based on National Agricultural Statistics Service livestock counts.

In the footnotes of an interesting article about US land use.

The first example could replace the slash with “or,” and the second example could use “and” instead of the slash. (By the way, pastures are fenced, and range is not.)

I admit, a slash is shorter than a whole word, and I generally recommend making the shorter choice, other things being equal. But a slash is a lazy person’s way out. Rather like “etc.,” but that’s another story.