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Everything's ranging

A
Scripps Howard story on actor John Leguizamo mentions that he "has starred in films and TV projects ranging from 'Moulin Rouge' to 'Arabian Nights.' " Let's see, how does that continuum go again? Oh, yes, there's "Moulin Rouge," then "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," "Davey and Goliath," and "Gonorrhea and You: A Cautionary Tale," and then finally "Arabian Nights."

What we have here is a false range. The false range is a popular crutch for writers, right up there with the "not only but also" sentence. Plug "ranging" or "everything" into a search engine and you'll find plenty of examples (because some stupid interfaces won't let you do a true full-text search for "ranging from" or "everything from," though, it might take a little sifting).

Ranges can be valid, of course. "From New York to Los Angeles" traces a geographic path; there are places in between. "From Allison to Zelda" requires a little artistic license, but at least it has an alphabetical reference point. When you're told, however, that a store sells merchandise ranging from diapers to snow tires, there is no such "range." "Products as varied as" is what the writer is trying to say, and that's what the writer should say.

The "everything from" phrase has the added problem of not excluding anything. I'm not sure where the soundtrack from "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" fits in the panoply of "everything from be-bop to unsigned bands" (the Wall Street Journal's description of what's available on satellite radio), but you can't tell me it's not in there somewhere. And when my paper, The Washington Post, says "everything from fantasy to animation to suspense dramas" was popular at the movies in 2001, that necessarily includes straight-to-video Frank Stallone crap, NC-17 films involving barnyard animals and propaganda documentaries denying the Holocaust. Remember: It says "everything"!

Even if you pooh-pooh my criticism of this device as overly literal, you must admit that it's a tired device. Like all crutches, though, it's easy to lean on. I must admit that I heard complaints about false ranges for several years before they resonated with me. So I sit humbly prepared to have my own writing combed for everything ranging from "ranging" to "everything."


Now what?

Move on to COPY EDITING DURING WARTIME

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