19 September 2008

zimdog's syntax secular

In an essay my students and I read for class, the author writes "Gilbert and Sullivan" as something of a punchline. I understood the reference, and even chuckled at its use, but what I was thinking about most was the use of "and."

For some years now, I've wondered what the difference is between "&" and "and." There may be an accepted usage for each, but since I prefer to speak with ignorance on rational matters I have decided free of external influence, I shall now state how I think the usage differs. You let me know if you agree or disagree. Honestly, I'm getting much better at talking about absolutely nothing for a really long time. I learned it from one of my professors.

My decision, from this moment forward, is that I shall use "&" to join two commonly/closely-related entities. The syntactical purpose is to eliminate confusion in sentences that have lots of "and"s in them. For instance:

Civil War history teaches us the dynamics of color like black and white and blue and gray.


Pretend I have just descended in a UFO and learned English, but I know nothing about the American Civil War. How do I know what color dynamics my non-alien self just wrote about? How do I know the "black and white" refers to races of people and the "blue and gray" refers to the clothing of warring sides. I say, think of the aliens (or anyone else who may encounter confusion from lack of context). Use more &s.

Now try the same sentence on for size, using &s:

Civil War history teaches us the dynamics of color like black & white and blue & gray.


... or perhaps this other example, which also uses &s to establish which "and" joins two choices and which "&" joins one word & another:

When considering the creators of musicals, I like Gilbert & Sullivan and Rogers & Hammerstein the least.

True story by the way...

5 comments:

Em said...

Some of my favorite things:
Me & you and crack & beast

Su said...

You should come watch my students' presentations this weekend. They will be presentating on using language effectively (including punctuation).

Xander and Alana Cole Faber said...

Oddly enough, I tend to think in a similar way about &. When I was creating our blog, I deliberately used & instead of and. But I never bothered to think about it before. I just did it. Interesting.

Parco Moon said...

Very true! Rogers & Hammerstein and Gilbert & Sullivan suck and blow both at the same time.

BB said...

I always made my students spell it out.

Rogers ampersand Hammerstein & Gilbert ampersand Sullivan, &c...