The Daily Parker

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The meaning of "or"

In computers, as in any technical or artistic field, sometimes words have different meanings than they do in ordinary English. Take "or," for example. When a computer sees "or," it understands that if either condition is true, then the entire thing is true. The logic chart looks like this, with the conditions along the edge and the result in the middle:


So, if condition 1 is true, then the statement is true, regardless of condition 2, and vice-versa. Only when conditions 1 and 2 are both false is the result false.

In standard spoken English, the word "or" doesn't work that way. Instead, it functions as an "exclusive or" (XOR), wherein one and only one condition must be true (and the other false) for the entire thing to be true. That grid looks like this:


So if condition 1 is true and condition 2 is false (or vice-versa), then the result is true; but if both 1 and 2 are the same, the result is false.

Leave it to master logician and brilliant philosopher Newt Gingrich to use a logical "or" in conversation today when he said, "either I really believe the things I've said my whole life, or I'd be a fraud." See? To a computer, he can be both!

Actually, he can be both to a person, too, but that's another problem.

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