As people who read Sesquiotica know, I’m not in the business of coming up with inflexible rules for people to slave under. But I am in the business of making observations and occasional suggestions. And sometimes asking questions.
Well, today I have a question for you: Are you deranged?
Actually, that would be better put as Is your prose deranged?
Here’s what I’m getting at. How do you normally express a range in English? You know, from 1 to 20 or from ultraviolet to infrared?
The way I just did, naturally: from…to.
And when people write ad or marketing or expository copy wanting to talk about all the options available in this or that place or from this or that person or business, they very often like to use this form to give a sense of a full range. In fact, two items often don’t suffice to express the ambit of offerings: you’ll get
from Iqaluit to Toronto and from Victoria to St. John’s
or you’ll get
from drama and dance to engineering and physics
and sometimes you’ll even get a string of to‘s.
But what you much too often will not get is an actual range. The from…to construction is grabbed as a convenient way to convey the idea of a a diverse offering, like a sweep of the arms. But too often it lacks clarity, it lacks sharpness, it lacks punch, because it doesn’t express a real range. It’s de-ranged.
Consider a sentence such as
From its beautiful waterfront to its exciting dining options to its lively theatre scene to its lush parks, Toronto has a lot to offer.
Diagram that out if you can. Does that really express a contrast between endpoints or extremes? It’s four different things, but it’s not like
from Bonavista to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle to the great lake waters
It’s more like
from your elbow to a poodle to your nose to pineapples
As I’ve discussed elsewhere (“Sharpening and vowel shifts” and “chiaroscuro“), contrasts appeal. Make a strong statement. Give it some flavour if you can. Go for something like
From Napoleons to beef Wellington, if it has pastry, we make it.
If you don’t have a sharp contrast, don’t pretend you do. But you can probably find one if you look – rather than just being lazy and relying on a usage that seems to suggest contrast. You’ll get more contrast from
Treat yourself to our one-inch micro-whoopie pie. Or to our twenty-inch monster cake. Or maybe just a nice warm muffin.
than you will from
From cookies to cakes to muffins, we have the full complement of baked goods.
This isn’t a rule; this is advice: don’t be de-ranged. Don’t be lazy or sloppy. Don’t rely on clichéd syntax. Stop for a moment and think about the truly vivid images available. You’ll produce much better results if you do.