John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Getting the range
To have a proper range, you must have some scale of comparable things with an upper and lower limit, or a set of individual things of the same type. True ranges are all around us:
In Baltimore today, with a blizzard in progress, the range of temperatures is predicted to be 23 degrees Fahrenheit to 29 degrees Fahrenheit.
The stock expression for a dinner with a full set of courses is from soup to nuts, appetizer to the last nibbles.
Samuel Johnson opens The Vanity of Human Wishes with this couplet: Let observation with extensive view, / Survey mankind, from China to Peru. ... That is, there is a geographic range of — to English eyes — exotic lands, the whole world encompassed.
The cruise ship you wish you were on instead of snowbound in Baltimore offers a range of amusements: gambling, overeating, faux-Vegas shows, shopping for overpriced items, overeating, swimming, and on. All of them are part of a limited set of similar activities.
Dorothy Parker commented on the emotional range in a performance by Katharine Hepburn, saying that the actress had “run the whole gamut from A to B.”
A journalist who merely wants to indicate a collection of miscellaneous things will often express that as a false range.
From USA Today: A pair of teenagers downloading songs by artists ranging from OutKast to Billy Joel through an Internet file-sharing service could cost their bewildered parents up to $4,000. Identify, please, the fixed points of songwriting on which OutKast and Billy Joel are parts of a continuum. The writer means as diverse as.
More of the same “as diverse as” false ranges from diverse publications: Products made with nanotechnology -- ranging from sunscreens to socks -- are being sold to consumers without adequate scientific research or regulation, British scientists warned.
A federal judge rebuffed an effort by media organizations, ranging from the Associated Press to Wired News, to unseal whistleblower documents in a civil rights group’s case against AT&T for allegedly helping the government’s warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
The Tisch family, known for making bets on out-of-favor assets ranging from oil tankers to cigarette makers, acquired a $63 million stake in the New York Times Co.
The changing geography of poverty here reflects a national trend, and argues for a more regional strategies on issues ranging from social safety nets to mass transit. (A pity that the superfluous a was not deleted from this Baltimore Sun article.)
The uncompromising Bill Walsh has written on this subject, pointing out that the false range is a crutch for lazy writers. And, he rightly says, even if you are not a purist about the meaning of range, you must concede that this is a tired device.