Fred Barbash

At the risk of sounding obsessive, I must once again bring up an egregious grammatical error that is popping up with ever more frequency in print journalism, as well as other media. This is the fourth entry in The Grammar Grouch in less than four years that deals with this issue.

I refer to the “between … to” phrase. It makes the writer sound illiterate.

Here’s what I wrote in a blog post in December 2014: “‘The crash shut down Military Trail in both directions between Golf Road to Piper’s Glen Boulevard,” a report in a South Florida newspaper declared. It was written by a young reporter who obviously is the product of a public educational system that has lost its way. Over and over, one comes across usage in newspaper language that is woefully deficient, owing to a lack of instruction in the basics of the English language.”

So, okay, the reporter was young, and can be forgiven, even though I am dumbstruck that anyone beyond the second grade can write that awful phrase. It clangs in the ear like the piano in my childhood church when the pianist’s elbow slipped off the frame and crashed onto the keyboard in the middle of the pastor’s sermon. At least that occasion had a positive effect: It woke up a lot of dozing parishioners.

Elon Musk

Now comes the same phrase written not by a newspaper novice, but a noted journalist. Reading the Palm Beach Post late last night, I was becoming sleepy, but was startled upright when my eyes fell on the offensive phrase. It occurred in a story about Elon Musk’s plan for a high-speed transportation system from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the downtown. Some sort of vehicles would carry passengers in an underground tunnel at speeds “between 125 to 150 mph …”

I looked at the byline. Fred Barbash, Washington Post. I was vaguely familiar with the name, and looked it up. He’s in his second stint with The Washington Post¸ where he has been national editor and London bureau chief. He’s been an editor at Politico and Reuters, and was managing editor of CQ Weekly magazine. He taught at the acclaimed Medill School of Journalism, and in 1987 authored a book on the U.S. Constitution. So he’s probably at least in his 60s.

He’s a graduate of the academically superior University of Wisconsin, from which the three progeny of my late older brother graduated. I must, therefore, be kind to him, and pray that he has not been making this abominable error throughout his long journalism career. If he has, maybe the young reporter who wrote  about the vehicle crash was following his example.

Okay, let’s tackle the problem. “Between 125 to 150 mph” makes no sense. Why is it so difficult for some writers to distinguish “between … and” from “from … to”? The vehicles traveling BETWEEN O’Hare AND downtown Chicago will move at speeds BETWEEN 125 AND 150 mph. Or, they will travel at speeds FROM 125 TO 150 mph. And is a conjunction joining items, in this case 125 and 150. To, a preposition, does not pair with between. Between requires two items, which are linked by and.

I know I shouldn’t be so harsh toward people who innocently make this mistake. But to my mind, it’s the worst of all grammatical errors. And it doesn’t have to be a matter of following a particular rule. It’s just something that any American born and reared here should hear distinctly. Anyone with the most basic ear for language cannot but be repelled by the sound of “between X to Z.”

And what’s happened to newspaper copy editors? Was there none for this story? Or was the one perusing it tone deaf?

There. Now that I have that off my chest, I’m going to relax with between one to three glasses of wine. That is … Oh my gosh, I’ve caught the virus.