Rantings of a sub-editor

March 10, 2010

When "to" just won’t quite do

Filed under: 'to' to express range,word choice — substuff @ 11:05 am

Around this time last year there came a command from on high that dashes must no longer be used between two figures to show a minimum-to-maximum variation. To put that in English, “£60m-£70m” was banned. We were told to change our style guide to say that “to” must be used instead. So “£60m to £70m”.

(This happens quite a lot here – hence we lower case “government” in all instances, much to – ahem – some people’s chagrin.)

The reasoning behind the outlawing of the dash was that it was ugly. Perhaps so. However, there is a serious problem with substituting it with “to”, which was demonstrated yesterday.

Defra’s Milk Road Map commits farms to reduce water by 5% to 15% per litre of milk by 2010 and big dairies to cut water use by 30% by 2020.

Aside from the fact that the layperson could interpret this to mean water content in milk, rather than the water footprint of milk, the figures here are open to interpretation. Does it aim to reduce water usage by 5% and bring it to a level of 15%, or to reduce water usage by between 5% and 15%?

I strongly suspect the latter, as the former doesn’t make much sense. We are awaiting confirmation… Watch this space.*

Regarding the dash/to issue, I think in most instances both can be avoided by the use of “between xxx and xxx”.

*Anyone who finds him or herself actually watching this space is advised to seek medical advice.


1 Comment »

  1. Call me sad, for that would be true, but this is interesting and not something I’ve considered before. ‘Between xxx and xxx’ is clearer than the ‘to’ formation, but wordy. I don’t think the dash thing is ugly.

    Anyway, there’s nothing like a good alternative suggestion and this certainly fits that description.

    I have a call in to the local medical centre as I speak.

    Comment by Deborah — February 8, 2011 @ 11:46 am | Reply

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