Backslash in Sentence

AndrewSipe's picture

After following the En-Em Dash debates (http://typophile.com/node/30372) I have a question of my own.

When using the backslash in a sentence, what is the acceptable (English) usage?

This is a problem that has plagued me for sometime now, but never enough to illicit proper research. Hopefully you fine folks can help.

1. No spacing:
The work around utilized by eRMS operators was to Reverse/Cancel Shipping Document…

2. Spacing on both sides of the backslash:
The work around utilized by eRMS operators was to Reverse / Cancel Shipping Document…

3. Spacing after the backslash:
The work around utilized by eRMS operators was to Reverse/ Cancel Shipping Document…

I apologize for my boring example, it's from a document I'm currently working on.

Lex Kominek's picture

I was always taught that you don't put any spaces around the slash unless it's separating poetry lines or song lyrics, but I don't have any style manuals handy at the moment.

BTW, this: / - is a slash and this: \ - is a backslash.

- Lex

katzenjammer's picture

To my eyes, at least, number 1 looks best. Also, I think it may be a forward slash your using??

later: woops, Lex beat me to it!

Conor's picture

BTW, this: / - is a slash and this: \ - is a backslash

Not often I get to be completely anal twice in a week. But this: / - is a virgule

;^)

As a personal rule of thumb, I’d use it without the spaces either side.

Linda Cunningham's picture

Chicago refers to it as the solidus (also known as the slash, slant, or virgule) and suggests the same spacing rules apply to it as to the em- and en-dash, i.e., no spacing.

I've been known to bend that one on rare occasions, depending on the font -- setting something in italic with a slash might want one (thin, actually, in retrospect) space after, but it's not usual. Spacing on both sides cancels out the whole purpose of putting the slash there in the first place, because it indicates an alternative choice. My copy of Chicago has several such examples, all set tight.

At least here in North America: elsewhere, mileage/kilometrage varies.... ;-)

seconds later: Ah, great minds think alike!

Conor's picture

Ah! Linda. Out of nowhere! ;^)

Conor's picture

Solidus is used for fractions.

Linda Cunningham's picture

A punctuation mark by any other name would do the job as well. ;-)

Linda Cunningham's picture

(Gawd, I love questions like this!)

Interestingly enough, APA (The American Psychological Association) Manual calls it a "slash, also called a virgule, solidus, or shill" but has some considerable differences in use from Chicago.

APA warns against use in and/or constructions (they want a phrase instead), simple comparisons (they want a hyphen), or "more than once to express compound units" (where they want centered dots and parens).

The New York Public Library of Style has even more names for "slash" -- virgule, cancel, shilling, diagonal, slant bar, stroke, solidus, and (my personal favourite) separatrix.

Words Into Type says that separatrix is used in bibliographical matter to indicate where one line ends and another begins (this is also a function in setting poetry continuously).

And last, but not least, the second edition of Editing Canadian English lists it in the index as "solidus."

Whew! ;-)

timd's picture

No space
The workaround utilized by eRMS operators was to Reverse/Cancel Shipping Document…

unless it affects the rag, in which case I leave it with the previous word.
The workaround utilized by
eRMS operators was to Reverse/
Cancel Shipping Document…

btw I would use workaround as one word.

Tim

Conor's picture

Just had a gander at The Elements of Typographic Style, which refers to it simply as a virgule. The solidus is refered to as being used in fractions and appears slightly more tilted to the right than the virgule, as you would for fractions.

cuttlefish's picture

Is there any proper use in English (or any other language) for the backslash (\) in a sentence?

Conor's picture

> Is there any proper use in English (or any other language) for the backslash (\) in a sentence?

To refer to The Elements of Typographic Style once more, it’s useless, with no recognised use in typography. Superfluous. Purely a cosmetic addition.

dezcom's picture

MSDOS commands :-P

ChrisL

Conor's picture

> MSDOS

A programming language… mmm! ;^)

Don McCahill's picture

The solidus and virgule are totally different characters. The former has a steeper angle, and I believe the baseline is also different.

Grot Esqué's picture

There’s a clever rule in Finnish. If the slash is between two words, no spaces at all. If it’s between two sets of words, then put spaces on both sides.

typos edited

Example
and/or

white hat / grey pants

AndrewSipe's picture

Finally, I'm at peace. Thank you all very much.

Not only has my question been answered, but I have been corrected in what type of slash it was (Lex and Conor) also, I thought it was called a backslash because it was tilted towards the rear.

This prompts another query… maybe we should have a Grammarwiki to go with the typowiki

Linda Cunningham's picture

The COPYEDITING-L list (https://listserv.indiana.edu/cgi-bin/wa-iub.exe?A0=COPYEDITING-L) put together a "definitive" style guide ten or so years ago, which I assume is being kept up.

You need to be a member to download it, and I left because it was just too busy. With permission, it might be a good start to a grammarwiki here....

AndrewSipe's picture

It would be a grammarwiki with the typographer in mind. With entries that show examples of where the rules could be "bent" for to facilitate proper (visually aesthetic?) typesetting.

There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile. Where you have type, you have text…

Linda Cunningham's picture

It would be a grammarwiki with the typographer in mind. With entries that show examples of where the rules could be “bent” for to facilitate proper (visually aesthetic?) typesetting.

Absolutely, but using that group's accumulated knowledge would at least solve some of the "well, in this country we do A, but in that country, we do B" arguments straight out: we can always fill in all the typographic quirks ourselves. ;-)

Conor's picture

I can’t resist…

> There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

There do seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

I hope I’m right. ;^)

AndrewSipe's picture

Is that a Hat-trick for you today?

There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

There do seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

There seems to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

Maybe we're both right?

katzenjammer's picture

If you substitute "lot of grammar-centric questions" for something singular: say, O I don't know, "silliness"? - then you would have to use "does," which implies that "do" is correct?

I'm always wrong with these things, but ummm, maybe? :-)

cuttlefish's picture

There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.
There do seem to be lots of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

???

Is one of those wrong? Are they both wrong?

Linda Cunningham's picture

Well, it's true that some Typophiles ask many questions relating to grammar.

:-)

Miss Tiffany's picture

I think understanding grammar is integral to being a good type-setter.

AndrewSipe's picture

I think understanding grammar is integral to being a good type-setter.

I'm screwed.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I should add that while I think it is intergral I struggle just as much as the next typographer. ;^)

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Andrew, I don't know if you have any editorial say in this, but Bryan Garner--a very condensed version of whose Modern American Usage appears in CMS 15/e--would say that if you really mean "or," write "or," or pick one or the other: "reverse" or "cancel." Hence, your virgule/separatrix/etc. problem goes away.

Garner would probably also say that the verb for "to draw out" or "provoke" is elicit, but I recognize the gratuity of my pointing that out.

Also--to make my post even more gratuitous--when people mean "use," why can't they write "use," and not "utilize," a three-syllable word than means nothing more or less than "use"?

Linda Cunningham's picture

There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.
There do seem to be lots of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.
???
Is one of those wrong? Are they both wrong?

(putting on my editor hat)

The former is my pick of the two.

That being said, it is awkward to see it written, and is phrased more as a rhetorical question (I keep expecting to see "doesn't there?" at the end). IMHO, it should be rewritten as

"There are many grammar-centric questions on Typophile."

OTOH, I don't have a problem in people writing here as they talk, and certainly the rhetorical question format is much more conversational and colloquial.

And thus endeth the grammar lesson for today.... ;-)

(taking off my editor hat)

There are days when it's useful to have one foot in the typography/design camp and the other in the anal-retentive editor camp, I guess.

Grot Esqué's picture

Does grammar-centric mean grammatical?

Linda Cunningham's picture

Lari, I think I'd define grammar-centric more as "centred around grammar": grammatical means "conforming to the rules of grammar."

I'd like to think we're doing the former while discussing the latter. ;-)

AndrewSipe's picture

…the more I read, the less confident I feel about what I've written…

I'm elated that I've sparked such an interest in "proper" grammar; please stop dissecting my sentences. It's starting to give me a complex.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Andrew: sorry. I can see about three things I'd change in my last post, anyway, if that's any consolation. Self-consciousness is good, so long as it doesn't paralyze you.

Linda Cunningham's picture

I’m elated that I’ve sparked such an interest in “proper” grammar; please stop dissecting me sentences. It’s starting to give me a complex.

Just so long as it's not one like Oedipus.... ;-)

The practices of "grammar" and "typography" have almost too many similarities: I've always thought of them as being opposite sides of the same street, to skew Tiff's analogy a bit.

(Probably the two most important is that they both require an eagle-eye for detail, and it's essential to know the rules so you can break them when a situation calls for it.)

In the thirty-plus years I've spent working with both, I've often been asked which one I prefer, and the answer's always been "I can't pick just one." I consider myself very lucky that I've always been able to make a (relatively) good living by doing them at the same time.

(And for my next philosophical discourse, we'll look at the jokes of Ludwig Wittgenstein....) ;-)

DTY's picture

There does seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.
There do seem to be a lot of grammar-centric questions on Typophile.

Speaking as an editor, each of those sentences could be correct for a particular meaning: if the "lot" were an actual thing, like in the sense of "the items on sale in the auction were grouped into twenty lots", the singular verb would be correct, but if "a lot of" were used as a synonym for "many" without any implication of the existence of actual lots, then the plural verb would be preferable. I think the latter is what is meant here.

CameronM's picture

I agree with Grot Esqué on this one, and I suppose it is similar to my views on the en-dash as well. No spaces if you are contrasting two words (yes/no) but spaces if you are contrasting phrases (not today / no comment).

Where I tend to use it most is for event listings:
Mon/Tue/Thu
or
4 February / 5 March

And if a grammarwiki was started it would be my number 1 bookmark.

AndrewSipe's picture

If the slash is between two words, no spaces at all. If it’s between two sets of words, then put spaces on both sides.

What if it's proper nouns?

Would it be: North America/South America

or would it be: North America / South America

Choz Cunningham's picture

So, if the backslash is on all our keyboards, is there something useful we might do with it? The backslash is slowly losing it's role in file management, and it would be a shame for it to just atrophy. The "|" has some decorative use, I've started on getting the ascii tilde some play, but I'm totally open to getting to 'own' another key on my 'board!

Choz

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Late to the party... I just have to comment on

(my personal favourite) separatrix

That is awesome, Linda. I have a new favorite word! It sounds like a grammar disciplinarian, i.e., "You will stay apart!"

;-D

Grot Esqué's picture

I’m going to North America/South America.
I’m going to North America America. / I’m going to North South America.

I’m going to North America / South America.
I’m going to North America. / I’m going to South America.

AndrewSipe's picture

I’m going to North America / South America.
I’m going to North America. / I’m going to South America.

Lari, thank you for clearing that up.

Choz: That's an interesting question.

Don McCahill's picture

I like that Finnish rule. Wish it could become usage in English. It adds clarity, as Grot shows in his last post. Clarity is a good thing in grammar (and in typography).

Linda Cunningham's picture

separatrix

That is awesome, Linda. I have a new favorite word! It sounds like a grammar disciplinarian, i.e., “You will stay apart!”

;-D

Ricardo, any editor worth their salt carries a range of whips, uh, red pencils, with them for just such a purpose. ;-)

Lari, in a situation like that, and assuming I was visiting both, I'd write I'm going to North America and South America. Sometimes, using a conjunction is a better solution to using a punctuation mark.... ;-)

Grot Esqué's picture

Yes, I personally always write “or”. (Can “/” ever mean “and”?)

Linda Cunningham's picture

The general consensus (at least in the style guides I have) is that something like apples/oranges means apples and/or oranges anyway.

Grot Esqué's picture

Yeah, that’s what I thought. “And/or” or “or”.

Lex Kominek's picture

To me, "or" means the same thing as "and/or", but maybe that's because I've done so much computer programming and logic stuff.

- Lex

cuttlefish's picture

In the absense of "either", "or" can be taken to imply the inclusive sense, but "and/or" makes that intent less ambiguous. The exclusive "or", however your preferred programming language puts it, is analogous to a phrase like "either x or y".

I think I know what I'm talking about, but I'm not sure...

Grot Esqué's picture

Lex, didn’t your logic teacher tell you about the real world?

100 US $ is 77 € or 118 CAD. Either 77 € or 118 CAD, not 77 €, 118 CAD or 77 € + 118 CAD.

Mine had this lousy joke about dessert being coffee or ice cream. He had many lousy jokes.

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