Now that Best of Santa Fe 2011 (both of them) and some of the post-special-issue malaise have settled down a bit, welcome to Cut, Copy, Paste, SFR's new English language and copy-editing blog, which—fair warning—consists primarily of griping about various grammar blunders and, more than likely, contributing a few of my own.---
On this week's agenda is the "everything from this and that" construction. Consider the following example: "The zoo houses everything from goldfish to giraffes." What's wrong with it? First of all, what's between goldfish and giraffes? Evolutionarily speaking, amphibians and reptiles evolved after fish but before mammals, so does that mean geckos are between goldfish and giraffes? Does the zoo house geckos? What about gallimimus (doubtful)? Defining what falls between two unmeasurable points is difficult (if not impossible) and largely subjective.
Editors' tolerance varies.
"The idiom is so widely used that it seems overly literal to insist that every 'range' must portray a clear-cut, definable continuum," Philip B Corbett, The New York Times' associate managing editor for standards and author of After Deadline, writes in a blog post on the subject. "I think most readers understand the expression as shorthand meaning something like 'a broad array of diverse things, including for example x and y.'"
As Corbett himself points out, however, the second and bigger problem with the construction is precisely that writers (myself included) tend to overuse it to the point of cliché.
The reason for this is fairly straightforward: "This to that" is an easy fallback when one doesn't know what else to say. This overuse is a systemic problem at small publications such as SFR, where regular special issues require writers to investigate subjects with which they might not be familiar. However, even specialized writers—culture reviewers in particular—tend to overuse "this to that." At the beginning of the editorial process for Best of Santa Fe, several stories praised local businesses for having "everything between [this] and [that]," and while a few instances remain in the published edition, reading the same construction again and again quickly becomes monotonous.