range and collection

Nancy Friedman wrote ages ago to say:
Now that UK and Commonwealth retailers are extending their reach into the US, I've been noticing a usage that's recognizable but still distinctly alien: "range" to indicate "collection" or "line"--as in "Our New Winter Range" from UK clothing catalog merchant Boden and, in an email from Australian retailer REMO, NEW Candela Range & LOTS More.

Over here, a "range" sits in the kitchen and turns out tasty stews.

I've written catalog copy for years, but would never consider using "range" in the way the Brits and Aussies do.
As Nancy notes, it's recogni{s/z}able for AmE speakers/advertisers, but it's not what they tend to use. In order to research this, I mentally strolled through the last US mall I was in, and then searched for the websites of the clothing retailers. So as not to take forever, I only looked at their front pages, or, if not much was going on there, I looked at their main "women's" page. None of the thirteen American retailers I searched used range on their websites. In fact, I found no equivalent word on seven of those websites. The Gap, The Limited, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, and J. Jill use collection, and J. Jill and Eddie Bauer use selection (e.g. our selection of shoes). [For the record, I'm way too lazy to provide links to all of those websites, but not too lazy to tell you how lazy I am.]

Meanwhile, on the UK High Street (or at least on my virtual High Street), there are collections (Jigsaw, Next, Marks & Spencer, Wallis), ranges (Boden, Laura Ashley, Next), and lines (Monsoon, Topshop, Miss Selfridge). Is there any difference between these things? Not that I can tell--but apparently Marks & Spencer recogni{s/z}es a difference between them because on their women's clothing site, they divide their wares into Our Collections, Our Ranges and Our Products. Their "collections" include Autograph and Per Una--lines of clothing that are sold under their own labels and that are meant to appeal to different demographics. But they also include maternity wear and collections that are defined by size (plus, petite). Under "our ranges", we find "career" and "denim". "Our products" are organi{s/z}ed by clothing item type (knitwear, jeans, etc.). Why does Per Una constitute a collection, while MagicwearTM is a range? I have no earthly idea. Any marketing mavens out there who can help?

[Thanks to all this research, I'm now fighting a serious case of jacket lust--after promising myself to stop spending. The US may be better for high-waisted trousers, but the UK has much cuter jackets.]

While on all these catalog(ue) sites, I noticed something that another reader pointed out to me (again, some time ago!): the use of apparel in AmE. Anthony B wrote to say that while apparel is in common use in AmE, in BrE it sounds "old-fashioned, borderline pretentious and rare". (AB sent a list of words like apparel that seem odder in BrE. We'll get to one at a time.) Whether apparel is in common use in AmE depends on how you define common. Retailers use it. You see it in catalog(ue)s (and now websites) and on informational signs in department stores and so forth, but if a friend ever asked if I wanted to go shopping for some apparel, I'd think she was being old-fashioned, pretentious and rare.

Finally, as Nancy notes, range (chiefly AmE) can mean a (AmE) stove/(BrE) cooker, though like apparel it's a word that I associate with marketing rather than everyday use. It makes me think of being eight years old and home from school with a fever, watching The Price is Right, where the prizes always seemed to include [must be said in the voice of Johnny Olson] an Amana range!!! And then there are other geographical AmE senses of range (as in Home on the Range), but that's just getting us too far from cute jackets.


  1. Thanks, Lynne--you are a researcher par excellence! Not to mention an astute judge of cute jackets. Couldn't help noticing that the Monsoon site has a category of "smart" jackets. Over here, as of course you know, "smart" refers only to mental acuity and not to style, although one could conceivably get away with saying "smartly turned out" (in marketing copy if not in conversation, where you'd sound as quaint as a Britisher talking of "apparel"--a word, by the way, that's industry jargon over here, too). I once wrote about a "smart" men's jacket that was designed to accommodate iPod earbuds, cellphone, PDA, and other gizmos. "Smart," in this case, meant "wired" or "tuned in."

  2. Hmm. I think I would expect a collection to be a part of the range, and thus smaller.

    Although as an English male non-shopper, I am not sure how much my opinion is worth in this context.

    (Sits on his hands and doesn't type anything at all about those linked jackets. Especially not that last one.)

  3. You're making a fundamental mistake: you assume that there's any logic at all behind M&S's naming habits. Or anything that M&S does, really, bless 'em.

    I think Brits do use 'range' occasionally, but only for a particular kind of cooker, and we'd be more likely to call it an Aga. (Regardless of its actual brand, like hoovers.)

  4. Thanks, Nancy--though that was not my most excellent research (I hope), considering the amount of self-confessed laziness involved.

    For a bit on smart, see here.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. (Sits on his hands and doesn't type anything at all about those linked jackets. Especially not that last one.)

    "It's very nice dear, but perhaps not your colour?"
    The Jacket Defence, Vol I

  7. "Range" is the usual name in Ireland for an Aga-type cooker. I think Rayburn was the most common brand when I was growing up and nearly every kitchen seemed to have one - most of these ranges have been ripped out now.

  8. As a Scot with a Texan wife, I am now more attuned than ever in my life to vocabularial differences betten UK (Scottish) and US (Texan) English. My wife has, I have noticed, a tendency to talk not only of apparel but specifically of "wearing apparel," as though there were some other variety I am not aware of. Of course, it can be difficult working out what is Scottish/Texan and what is UK/US, but I am fairly sure that that one is Texan, or at least southern US.

  9. 'Range', in the context of a collection of clothing, strikes me as meaning variety. As in: "This collection shows a great deal of range, but this collection over here is just the same cute jacket over and over again." Doesn't this relate to 'free-range eggs' as in "these hens got to walk all over the place, whereas these poor hens just get to walk in itty bitty circles in their cages." And again, don't we say that a musician has a lot of range, meaning they can do a lot with her voice or trombone or whatever? This is what I would think a 'range' of apparel is meant to convey - variety.

  10. My definition of "range" would be the same as celeste - something with variety. However, I'd never actually call a clothing line a "range," but would instead say that that clothing line "has a good range."

    Something I find interesting in my brief time reading various websites about the English language is all the stuff that is supposedly pretentious if used by the wrong person. This strikes me as very bizarre, and now I'm much more self concious when I write - particularly when it comes to spelling. My natural assumption when a person uses an unusual word would be that they grew up with it somehow.

  11. In spite of my laziness in not linking to all of the shopping sites, I had intended to link to the M&S site that has both ranges and collections--and now I have. So, there one can see that 'range' is used in a particular way in BrE marketing-speak--our ranges, whereas in AmE, you might say we have a wide range of clothing, but probably wouldn't say our autumn range is particularly affordable this year, or anything like that. In AmE one likes to put an of after range, even in marketing-speak.

  12. > but would never consider using "range" in the way the Brits and Aussies do.

    Well, Nancy, English in all its dialects has always been hospitable to borrowings from other languages, and possibly even more so from other Anglic dialects. So, if Boden et al. continue to make inroads into the U.S. market, you're probably just going to have to get used to this - to you - new usage!

  13. Maybe we have a contender for BrE-to-AmE Word of the Year 2007?

  14. Sometimes the language divide takes a little thought to understand.

    My dual citizen granddaughter (aged three and a half) recently asked for "one of those cookies with the black butter". In the UK, that's a chocolate digestive biscuit.

  15. Interesting but surely we all know that Mercedes cars are described as 'Class' (e.g. A-Class, S-Class but CLK, SLK), BMW is 'Series' (Series 3, Series 5) while Jaguar has 'Types' (X-Type, S-Type).

    I think it is more than just AmE and BrE - it is marketing speak which is a different language altogether.

  16. I wonder if we also have an example of an inter-American dialectical difference as well. While I would certainly understand a range (especially in the phrase “gas range”) to mean a stove, I have to admit I would never say “I have some chili cooking on the range.” ‘Stove’ would always be preferred. I feel like the only time that I would actually hear the word “range” would be in a kitchen store.

    For me, the most common alternate meaning for range is to signify an open stretch of land or a mountain chain. Here in Denver we say we live on the “Front Range” which signifies all of the cities at the base of the Rockies.

    I’m just curious if anyone else commonly refers to the kitchen appliance as a ”range” in everyday use.

  17. I agree with the connotations various people have put up for 'collection' vs 'range', but they seem to have little connection to how the words are used in marketing. The Boden range is made entirely by Boden, so it's a collection in a sense. (If you know Boden, their clothes are fairly identifiable--there is a unity of style, colo(u)r, etc. within seasons.) The plus-size collection at M&S is just all their plus-size clothes, not a particularly coherent group.

    People from the east coast of the US rarely use range as a geographical term, but as I said, I wouldn't use it for the cooking appliance either. To me, that is a word used in catalog(ue)s, shops and game shows.

  18. American or British: do you have any furnishings in my price range?

    I'm wondering whether Nancy's phrasing of 'I've been noticing a usage' is more or less standard either side of the Atlantic (and antipodes too?). My inclination is to write 'I've noticed a use'. The -age suffix seems excessive to me. Am I alone in thinking this?

    I saw a cute skirt of the same colours in a window at River Island. It doesn't appear online at their website. Too bad. You could have had a coordinated ensemble as a reward for your linguistic efforts.

  19. Your furnishings example sounds unlikely in both BrE to AmE, but if what you're asking for is do we both say price range, the answer is 'yes'.

    Usage is linguistic/dictionary jargon, known on both sides of the Atlantic.

    I'm not allowing myself to buy jackets, so I'd better not allow myself to buy skirts that match jackets I don't have.

  20. My next door neighbours had a "range" when I was growing up, which we always referred to as "the Aga" despite it actually being a Rayburn.

    I blogged about balaclavas and fannies recently: http://annierhiannon.blogspot.com/2007/01/snow.html

    And hello, by the way! Just found your blog via Biographica Literatia, in case you're keeping track of these things.

  21. Very belatedly: A range, to me (AmE), is a distinct piece of kitchen equipment that has a stove (on top) and an oven (below) integrated in a single, freestanding appliance. When designing a kitchen, one has the option to choose either a range or a separate wall oven and cooktop, each of which would be built into the kitchen. (The only time I've ever encountered the word "hod" is in the instruction manual to my German-made cooktop, which was presumably written or translated for a BrE audience.)

    A "cooker" would, I guess, be some sort of small special-purpose electrical appliance you could put on the counter to cook a particular food, but the only example I can think of is a rice cooker. "Cooker" floating out there on its own doesn't really sound natural, but I would probably interpret it as a generic term for waffle irons, yogurt makers, bread machines, coffee makers, etc. in addition to rice cookers.

  22. I'd say the difference in Per Una being a Collection, but MagicWear beign a range is this:

    Collection refers to lots of different items all linked under a theme (in Per Una's case it's "M&S's interpretation of what a woman of X age would like"). So you could have a Spring Collection, a Baroque Collection, a 20s Collection. And those would all be a mixture of dresses, skirts, tops etc.

    Range is more one type of product that comes in different colours and styles. So you'd had a Swimwear Range, a Shoe Range, a Blouse range. I'd assume MagicWear in the post is a Shapewear range (like Spanx). Some ranges (like shapewear) can seem more like a Collection, but they'd be considered a range because all the garments have the same purpose even if they look different.

  23. A range, to me, would be a very old-fashioned type of cooker that no longer exists - almost an open fire, but not quite, in any case powered by coal or wood. An Aga (or, indeed, Rayburn) is far more modern and often uses gas or oil as its fuel source.

    Anything in a modern urban kitchen is a stove or a cooker - these days, increasingly, one has a separate hob and oven.

  24. To me as a programmer ranges are sets of numbers or something of a numerical value like enums, and collections are lists, maps etc. Sorry for the lingo :)


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)