Consider the following sentences:

  • “This is a vast collection of everything ranging from African musical instruments to 20th century art, and the Egyptian Temple of Dendur thrown in for good measure.”
  • “You guys have had a lot of questions lately — about everything from unfinished high-rises and legislative votes to the Citrus Bowl and even poker protocol.”
  • “This 10-point cheat sheet will help you navigate everything from the sessions to the parties to the weather.”

Bill Walsh, language blogger and a copy editor at The Washington Post, criticizes the “everything from… to…” device, observing that it creates a “false range.”

In his book The Elephants of Style, Walsh writes: “When you’re told… that a store sells merchandise ranging from diapers to snow tires, there is no such ‘range.’ If the variety of merchandise is worth mentioning, there are other ways to mention it.”

Walsh calls this locution “a popular crutch for writers” as well as a cliche. Moreover, he notes archly, it fails to exclude anything, so the hypothetical store cited above presumably also stocks nuclear reactors and cocaine!

How do you sidestep this problem? The final example above could be rephrased as follows: “This 10-point cheat sheet will tell you what you need to know about the festival, including the sessions, parties, and weather.” Another solution would be to append “and more” or “and others” to the list. For the store, Walsh suggests “products as varied as….”

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.