June 30, 2007

"Or" as Sheffer Stroke

As you may have noticed, it's been a non-blogging kind of summer, and is likely to largely stay that way (I'm packing but haven't moved yet). But I didn't want to let this (from Steve Benen) go unremarked:

More than half of Americans say they wouldn't consider voting for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president if she becomes the Democratic nominee, according to a new national poll made available to McClatchy Newspapers and NBC News....

But... [a] few days before these results were published, a national Newsweek poll showed Clinton (and other top-tier Dems) with healthy leads over all of the leading Republican presidential hopefuls. In each instance, her support topped 50%.
Either a majority of Americans have ruled out backing Clinton under any circumstances, or a majority of Americans are prepared to support her against a GOP rival. It can't be both.

In the penultimate sentence, "or" seems to go beyond the exclusive "or"; because it could be the case that less than half of Americans had ruled out supporting Clinton and less than half of Americans were going to support her against a GOP rival. (From the poll data Benen cites, it seems pretty clear that "are prepared to support" means "says right now they'll support" rather than just "hasn't ruled out supporting.") So Benen is using "either... or" to convey the Sheffer stroke: Not both.

This phenomenon has been remarked before -- I think we often mention examples like this before telling our intro logic students that when we use "or" it's inclusive -- but this seemed like a relatively nice example in the wild.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:39 PM | Comments (8)