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...


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 (but mostly Alana) 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...