The Language Perfectionist: The Everything Column

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.]