The Andor and the Orboths

by Mark L. Levinson

“We’re spending too much on outside design services for our interface,” said the boss.  “Let’s keep the design consultant for ideas, but hire an employee to pick up those ideas and do the hands-on work in house.  Write an ad.”

I started writing:  “Wanted, design liaison/interface artist.”  But that looked like an artist in the field of design liaison/interface.

I turned it around:  “Wanted, interface artist/design liaison.”  But that looked like a liaison between the artist and the design.

I needed an outside consultant myself in the field of slashmarks.  I wondered if the andor, whom I had written about in an STC publication back in the 20th century, would remember me.

The andor’s memory was as sharp as his beak and talons.  “I’d have expected you to be in retirement by now,” he said.  “Or dead.”

“Or both,” said a small, shaggy creature sheltering at the side of the andor’s nest.

The andor swivelled his oblique neck away from the orboth, whom in former days he would surely have swatted clear off the cliffside, and he said evenly, “If I’d meant in retirement and/or dead, I’d have said in retirement and/or dead.  But there’s no ‘and’ about it.  You can’t be both at once.”

“I wanted to come visit,” I said.  “But I’ve always had too much to do at work, or at home.”

“Or both.”  “Or both.”  Now I saw there were two of the little creatures.

“Don’t you mean too much to do at work and/or at home?” said the andor.

“Well, isn’t the ‘and’ kind of superfluous there?  ” I said.  “Either condition would suffice to prevent me from visiting.”

“Suppose I were proofreading your manual,” said the andor.  “An upside-down illustration would prevent you from publishing it.  But you would still want me to tell you whether it had upside-down illustrations, missing pages, inaccurate cross-references, grammatical errors, and/or offensive language, wouldn’t you?  And/or!  Not ‘or’ because you want to know about them all.  Not ‘and’ because if there are only some, you still want to know.  There’s no substitute for ‘and/or’!”

The orboths whispered together, and then one of them said, “Or any two or more of the foregoing.”  The andor ignored them.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “You have every reason to be disappointed and/or angry with me.”

“Just ‘and,’” rasped the andor.  “I have every reason to be both disappointed and angry.  It’s up to me whether in fact I’m both, either, or neither of those.  Now what have you come back for after all these years?”

“It’s the slashmark,” I said.  “I know how to use it between words, but in my work as a technical writer/editor, I’m having trouble using it between phrases.”

“I’ll say you are,” said the andor.  “By ‘technical writer/editor,’ do you mean you’re a technical writer and a technical editor, or a technical writer and just a general editor?”

“Or both?”  “Or both?”  This time, the andor and I both ignored the orboths.

I said, “The problem is that the slash governs a left-hand expression and a right-hand expression without indicating how long either one of them is.  In the case of the hyphen, we can escalate to an en dash to indicate that a whole phrase is involved on at least one of the sides; we write ‘orange-scented’ with a hyphen but we write ‘bay rum–scented’ with an en dash.  That helps not completely, but a little.  What can we do to show that the slash applies to a whole phrase?  Maybe pad it with spaces?”

“Spaces?” the andor repeated to himself.  He held his wings slightly away from his body as if essaying the idea.  “Spaces, you say?  What book did you get that practice from?”

“I can’t say I’ve seen it recommended in a book,” I admitted.  “But I think that by linking the adjoining words less closely to one another, it lets the reader more easily understand them as linked to the neighboring words on their own side of the slashmark.”

I wrote out “design liaison/interface artist” and “design liaison / interface artist” for him to compare.

His breath wheezed in his long, slanted throat.  “I guess it does no damage.  It might do some good.  But be sure to use a sticky space on the left side of the slashmark.”

He looked sharply at the orboths, but they merely widened their eyes and shook their shaggy heads.  “On the left side,” he repeated.  “Not both.”

Questions and comments are welcome:  ]]

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.