Don’t lose meaning when you’re writing ‘between’ the lines

Imprecision breeds confusion, so choose your ranges with care.

Imprecision breeds confusion, so choose your ranges with care

“Between Springfield and St. Louis,” a colleague imparted, “there’s only one brain surgeon.”

“Oh,” I said. “Do you mean that if you combine all the medical professionals in those two cities, there’s only one brain surgeon?

“Or do you mean that within the territory that one must traverse to pass from one to the other, there’s only one brain surgeon?”

Turns out, the latter was meant. (I use the passive voice here, because if I used active voice, I’d have to use a masculine pronoun, and you’d probably figure out that I meant Michael Sebastian, and I wouldn’t want to out him that way.)

Anyway, as with many words that have multiple interpretations or applications, “between” can create confusion.

“Between 2003 and 2004 … ” one might write. Guess what. There is nothing—bupkes—between 2003 and 2004. There’s not an infinitesimal fragment of time there; it’s one year or the other. (It’s even less time than transpires between the end of the Cubs’ spring training and their being mathematically eliminated. Staggering, I know.)

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