It's been so long out of action that the arid sands of abused language and dry scholarship have eroded the paint from their Land-Rover, and lent a dull shine to the pitted brass mounts of the harpoon with which they skewer witlings, the hapless and the lazy: catching air over the hills of confusion and the valleys of the dull, the Linguistic Patrol returns to action!
Our scene opens as innocent viewers look at local television. Inside the box, strange little people are exploring an auto show, all shiny paint, bright chrome, and smiling spokescreatures with a point to make. A flustered but unbowed reporter yields to the studio host, who leans towards the camera with a leer and addresses both the reporter and the viewers he cannot see:
"Thank you Howard Philips! The Auto Show certainly runs the gambit--"
No. No, it most certainly does not, not unless it has just made the opening moves in a chess game, initiated conversation with a telling comment or, perhaps, has become part of some OSS-like gaslighting operation; for just a minute, I was prepared to entertain the last possibility because I did not want to believe what I, er, the Linguistic Patrol was hearing.
When the complete range or scope of something is on display -- the remarkable span of frequencies produced by human singing voices, for instance, or the entire range of colors a television system can reproduce* -- that would be the whole gamut of that thing; or the display might be, all too often, said to "run the gamut."
Not "the gambit." That's not how gambits work. No, a gambit might be a calculated move. It could be a ploy, a stratagem -- for example, perhaps one could complain about media misuse of language via a humorous blog posting, instead of mocking the offender directly.
Now, who's got the harpoon charges?
* The bright and iconic "Coca-Cola Red," for instance, appears to remain just outside the hues possible to video displays: it is "out of gamut," and the red you see on the screen in their commercials is the shade as close to it as is possible within the gamut of colors.
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