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Irritations: The false range

A tic that many journalists appear unable to resist is to assemble a list of disparate items inappropriately linked by the construction range from ... to or ranging from … to. Here are some typical examples.

Some scientists believe that embryonic stem cells, which can form different types of body cells, could help provide cures for a range of illnesses from Lou Gehrig's to Parkinson's diseases.

You start the game as an up-and-coming rocker and use the miniature Gibson SG guitar controller to play along with a musical soundtrack of tunes that range from Black Sabbath to Franz Ferdinand.

Pupils write the skits and plays that deal with topics ranging from bullies to drugs to divorce.

Millions of copies of self-help books, by writers ranging from the Dalai Lama to M. Scott Peck, have been purchased by readers seeking road maps to happiness.

What is the continuum on which one can place the Dalai Lama and M. Scott Peck, Lou Gehrig’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, Black Sabbath and Franz Ferdinand? The construction the writers could have used more precisely is that these authors, diseases, performers, topics, whatever are as diverse as.

To have a range requires a set of objects, persons, topics or attributes within a limited set.

The proverbial phrase from soup to nuts means the whole thing, an entire dinner considered as a sequence of courses.

When Samuel Johnson opened The Vanity of Human Wishes by writing, “Let Observation with extensive View,/ Survey Mankind, from China to Peru," China and Peru stand for the entire globe, as a progression through the nations.

Prices can have ranges; heights and weights can have ranges: specific points along a line with an identifiable beginning and end.

My learned colleague, Bill Walsh, expresses the same irritation in The Elephants of Style, but in still moments of the night I fear that he and I and other editors are no more effective than King Canute ordering the tide to stay its motion.

Still, if you also have irritations that you would like to see vented here, please feel free to share.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:11 AM | | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Irritations: The false range:

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Mark Spahn sent a link to this interesting column about the expression "ranging from X to Y." On a related note, how many times have you see... [Read More]


For what it's worth, at Mr. Walsh's blog (, he has a link to a series of entries that he calls "Sharp Points." He has a Sharp Point addressing the ranging issue at

Those links don't seem to be working, Scott.

Range roving is deeply disturbing to us copy-editor types but I find that to change every "ranging from" to "as diverse as" (or its ilk) is not much of an improvement.

For the first link, try:

I think what I typed picked up the parenthesis and the comma that followed the address.

For the second link, try:

I think what I typed picked up the period that followed the address.

For years I have changed most of the false ranges I encounter in copy.

I continue to change them because the argument for doing so is solid.

But I know a losing battle when I fight one.

Sometimes the items in a "range" aren't diverse at all. In those instances you could correct the sentence by saying "...including x,y, and z." This is what I typically do. But I like your "diverse as," and I'll use that when it's apt.

Not being familiar with the quote from Samuel Johnson, I needed to read that paragraph several times to make sense of what began with a sing-songy poem rhythm and continued in straight prose. I finally realized that the quote was missing its end quotation marks after the word Peru.

Perhaps, because this blog entry is more than 3 years old, it no longer matters, but I have only just discovered this wonderful collection and have started with its earliest entries, making my comments appear 3 years out of date.

I had the same comment, Lila Anderson, and I am sympathetic to your observation in that my comments are even further out of date.

Meh. I don't think the usage history of "range" supports your claim that the examples you cite are necessarily misuses of the word (or a recent phenomenon among ignorant newspaper columnists). Sometimes "as diverse as" may be a better alternative, but the OED, for example, includes this entry from Rudyard Kipling in 1901 that seems parallel to your examples: "Their homes ranged from Howrah of the railway people to abandoned cantonments like Monghyr and Chunar."

I think "range" is meant to mark two (or more?) points of variance along a spectrum that may or may not have the kind of explicit objectiveness that you're claiming.

What I'm curious about, though, is whether your example sentence about the skits has other problems. Is it OK to say "...ranges from x to y to z"? Can you have a string of more than two prepositional phrases like that following the verb range?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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