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'Including' everything but the kitchen sink

Is a workhorse preposition subtly shifting its meaning, the Monitor's language columnist wonders.

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Some musings were mused not long ago on a copy-editing listserv I subscribe to on the use of including.

If it's meant merely to introduce an example, why does including appear so often with the phrase "but not limited to" trailing afterward? And on the other hand, why do some people seem to feel that including requires them to detail all the elements of the set they're discussing? This impulse leads to sentences like this: "They have five children, including a set of 5-year-old identical triplet sons and two daughters."

Speaking of introducing an example: Here's a recent headline: "Obama Administration Considering Range of Options Regarding Arizona Immigration Law – Including Suing to Block It."

In this case, including has the effect of an intensifier: "and even." Several options are under consideration, but the possible lawsuit is the one mentioned specifically.

Statement and elaboration, statement and elaboration: That pattern is one of the building blocks of the explanatory prose that fills the pages of what we used to call the public prints. Include is a verb, but a number of dictionaries identify including as a preposition. Like conjunctions and other prepositions, the humble including serves as the mortar.

A writer always struggles to balance comprehensiveness and conciseness. Judicious use of including can serve as an expression of the Pareto Principle (vital few, trivial many): It helps a writer call out the one or two most important elements, as in the lawsuit example above, while giving some hint of the broader picture ("range of options").

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