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What's in the middle?; A blind eye

Rosie Right

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What's in the middle?

Bill Walsh, copy chief at the Washington Post, has posted one of the pronouncements he calls "rants" on his Web site. This one takes on "false ranges" — ones that put as their end points items that do not bear a logical relation to each other. That is, ones that is that have no easily intuited items in between (e.g., "That store sells merchandise ranging from diapers to snow tires" vs. A to Z).

Even more, Walsh complains about the use of ranges that start with "everything from to." Since he is picky, as a copy editor must be, he asks: What does such a phrase exclude? For instance, he writes, "When my paper, The Washington Post, says 'everything from fantasy to animation to suspense dramas' was popular in the movies in 2001, that necessarily includes straight-to-video Frank Stallone crap, NC-17 films involving barnyard animals and propaganda documentaries denying the Holocaust. Remember: It says 'everything'!"

Walsh makes a valid point about a phrase that Rosie admits she has used — especially in conversation — and never really questioned. Walsh says his criticism may be "overly literal," but then he strikes home by calling the phrase "tired." That Rosie will take to heart, even though it's hard to see how one can reword everything from beginning to end.

A blind eye

A friend has e-mailed:

"From the Dec. 26 New York Times: 'If the U.S. government is going to pull the wool out from under the Geneva Conventions, that is going to be serious for our soldiers,' said Francis A. Boyle, an expert on the law of war at the University of Illinois.

"Pull the wool out from under? Surely the speaker is conflating 'pull the rug out from under' with 'pull the wool over'?"

Of course that is what happened. Pull the rug out from under is pretty clear, but pull the wool over is so dated that it's almost meaningless. According to the Morris Encyclopedia of Dictionary Word and Phrase Origins, the phrase comes from the large wigs gentlemen used to wear, similar to the ones still worn by the judges in British courts. "The word wool was then a popular joking term for hair. ... The expression pulling the wool over his eyes came from the practice of jokingly tilting a man's wig over his eyes so that he would be unable to see what is going on." Actually, Morris says, our word hoodwink comes from this practice, also.

Mr. Boyle's statement seems to mean nothing, but what he describes seems definitely not pleasant.

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