Friday, April 6, 2012

from . . . to: Common Errors in English Usage Entry for Friday, April 6, 2012

from . . . to
“From soup to nuts” makes sense because soup was the traditional first course in a formal meal, nuts the last. Similarly “from A to Z” makes sense because these are the first and last letters of the alphabet. But this construction, which identifies the extremes of a spectrum or range, is often improperly used when no such extremes are being identified, as in “She tried everything from penicillin to sulfa drugs.” These are not extremes, just examples of different sorts of drugs. Even worse is “He gave his daughter everything from a bicycle to lawn darts to a teddy bear.” A range can’t have more than two extremes. “He gave his daughter everything from paper dolls to a Cadillac” conveys the notion of a spectrum from very cheap to very expensive and is fine. Often when people are tempted to use “from . . . to” they would be better off using a different expression, as, for example, in this sentence: “She tried all sorts of medicines, including penicillin and sulfa drugs.”

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