"… but not limited to…"

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It was recently reported that Ray McBerry, a Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, sent a message to his supporters reading in part:

In recent weeks, I have been personally accused of, but not limited to, the following list of absurdities: that I attempted to have an affair with my former campaign manager… when she was fired for spending unacceptable amounts of time at the Capitol in lobbying efforts during our campaign; that I somehow “stole” sole custody of my son years ago from his mother, even though she tested positive for meth use in a court-ordered screening after she had been living outside our home for nearly a year; that I have had some sort of sexual or sexually improper relationship with underaged girls; that I am no longer allowed to teach in the state of Georgia, despite the fact that I retain my teaching certificate to this very day; and now that I am somehow unpatriotic because, as a Georgian who cherishes the constitutional Republic given to us by our Founding Fathers and wishes to see it restored, I choose to salute the Georgia flag and the original Betsy Ross American flag instead of the current federal flag which represents the present unconstitutional leviathan in Washington.

This being Language Log rather than Political Scandal Log, my interest is the use of "but not limited to" with the syntactic force of "among other things".

Such cases abandon the requirement that limited should find a syntactic partner earlier in the sentence:

Anomalies may be found during, but not limited to, the review, test, analysis, compilation, or use of software products or applicable documentation.
What Customers will Experience: Issue will affect all services which would normally be accessible for this server which may be, but not limited to; HTTP, FTP, POP3, SMTP and ASP.
This category consists of but not limited to handgun, rifle, and shotgun ammunition; cartridges and shells of various caliber, gauge, size and weight.

The same sort of thing happens, even more commonly, with the fuller phrase "including but not limited to":

The user acknowledges and confirms Q-FM’s indemnity to, including but not limited to, indirect, direct, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages arising from the use of or inability to use the Q-FM site.
The Company makes no representation, warranties, guarantees, and/or conditions: as to the accuracy, reliability, quality, relevancy, and/or timeliness of any content on the Site; that the Site will be completely operational and/or error-free; that any error(s) in the Site will be corrected; that the Site will be free from including, but not limited to, viruses, hackers and/or any other malicious security threats; and, that any communication between you and the Site will be secure.

If you're used to seeing language like this in contracts, it may not be obvious to you that a new construction has developed.  Perhaps it will help clarify things to simplify them:

The user confirms Q-FM's indemnity to including indirect damages.
The Company makes no representation that the site will be free from including viruses.


Global Early Warning System for Major Animal Diseases, including Zoonoses (GLEWS).
Police seized 40 weapons, including assault rifles and handguns, in a Thursday evening raid of 287 Hickory Street in the Township of Washington.

Functionally, "(including) but not limited to" serves to indicate that a following list is not necessarily complete.  Its original syntactic structure involves apposition with a preceding noun phrase. But for people who use it all the time — mainly, I suppose, lawyers — it loses syntactic integration with its preceding context.

[Update — to clarify the political context, Mr. McBerry is one of a number of candidates for governor in the Republican primary, with current poll numbers in the low single digits. He's also the president of the Georgia chapter of the League of the South.]


  1. John said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 10:39 am

    "But for people who use it all the time — mainly, I suppose, lawyers — it loses syntactic integration with its preceding context."

    You meant to write:

    "but not limited to, lawyers"

  2. Alex said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    If you're not familiar with the original sense I imagine it parses rather poorly:

    "I have been personally accused of, but not limited to, [actions]"

    That implies to me that they've been accused of [actions], but oh boy, they could do so much more, just you wait. Which I imagine was not the intent. It's thrown in as a self-contained entity without any terrible regard for the structure of the sentence.

  3. Ken Adams said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 11:17 am

    In case anyone's interested, on my blog I tackled the equivalent of "including but not limited to," namely "including without limitation": http://www.adamsdrafting.com/2007/04/02/including-without-limitation/.

    I also looked at a real curiosity, "including with limitation": http://www.adamsdrafting.com/2009/08/27/including-with-limitation/.

  4. Mark P said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

    I'm going to have to read the local (and Atlanta) paper more, I guess. Here I am, a resident of the state, and I've never heard of this guy. It looks like I have some catching up to do. I especially want to see what the unlimited accusations are.

  5. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

    Mr. Adams' links covered most of what I might say based on exposure to legal documents with admirable thoroughness. I would add that English solicitors often use in somewhat similar contexts the phrase "including for the avoidance of doubt" followed by a list of items. While that seems like it ought to have somewhat different semantics, as will happen with jargon/boilerplate, it may have spread to be used in contexts where the items on the following list aren't really doubtful or borderline cases in terms of applying whatever the general and vaguer category was supposed to be. The trouble with a lot of these jargony turns of phrase that do have a useful ambiguity-dispelling function is that they often get used where there's in context no potential ambiguity to be dispelled, so they make the prose clunkier without any corresponding benefit. But of course it takes time to stop and think about that, and the risk-averse course (with lawyers who do document-drafting tending to be risk-averse by nature) is to leave it in rather than invest the time necessary to think all the way through whether it's adding value in the particular instance. And then there's the fact that in the event of subsequent disputes there's the risk the other side will not be following Gricean maxims but will instead be trying to misconstrue the meaning of the language in whatever way will be tactically advantageous, so you may invest at least some time and effort (with corresponding cost in making the prose seem clunkier and overly detail-obsessed) to protect against that possibility.

    Some of these free-floating examples in the original post may be the result of people trying to write in what they consider an impressively official/bureaucratic sounding register without having had the very specific training / socialization of the legal profession, sort of like (I really mean this to be empiricist / descriptive rather than sound snarky) people who try to use Latinisms without having ever actually taken Latin, who accordingly make typos because there's no obvious or intuitive way for an Anglophone to judge the plausibility/correctness of "de minimis" versus "de minimus" without either having spent a few years drilling declensions or having the good sense to think they probably ought to stop and look it up.

  6. Gabe Ormsby said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    The broader trend of legal forms moving into the vernacular and non-legal writing is interesting. I'm disproportionately annoyed by "and/or" showing up everywhere, as if there were inordinate risk of ambiguity that could lead to dire outcomes: "Dinner will include a dessert of cake and/or ice cream," indeed.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

    Not to get the thread off the purely linguistic point, but Prof. Liberman's anarthrousness may have created its potential ambiguity. Mr. McBerry is not *the* Republican candidate for governor of Georgia, he is *a* candidate, in the sense of being (per wikipedia) one of seven currently announced contenders for the primary election whose winner would become *the* Republican candidate in November. Also per wikipedia he's not really toward the front of the pack but is stuck at 2 or 3% in the polls. (In 2006 he lost a two-man primary 88%-12%.)

  8. Michael said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

    Ken Adams points out that lawyers often use "without limitation" instead of "but not limited to."

    This phrase is also more versatile, since it can but used without "including" — you could say, for example, "I have been personally accused of, without limitation, the following list of absurdities" — and will remain grammatical to a far wider audience than if one uses "but not limited to" without "including."

  9. Assistant Village Idiot said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    I think the candidate's meaning was clear, though the clumsiness does provoke a smile. He expects more accusations to follow and doesn't want to claim this is an exhaustive list.

    As to JW Brewer's point, I have come to expect this minor deception from everyone writing about the other party's candidates.

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    Contra AVI, I didn't think Prof. Liberman was being even trivially deceptive, as opposed to merely potentially ambiguous. One of the more attractive features of LL, from my perspective, is how fair and open-minded the contributors in general (and myl in particular) typically are when talking about language users whose politics are to the right of the highly-truncated range typically found in American university faculties. (One cannot always say the same for all commenters on threads with a potential political subtext.) This really shouldn't be an unusual and noteworthy a feature for a blog on non-political subjects maintained by reputable academics, but I fear it actually is quite unusual and should not be taken for granted.

    [(myl) Thanks. I've added "a" to the description in the first sentence, and put a bit more information about Mr. McBerry in an update at the end.]

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    I'm curious about who JW would place to the right of, e.g., Prof. Yoo, tenured by the University of California at Berkeley. Should "highly-truncated" be taken to mean "not yet disbarred or indicted", or does it only tell of an overconventional perception of represented academic range?

  12. Theodore said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

    What surprises me is that I haven't seen this new construction before. I read and write a lot of engineering technical specifications for construction projects (with loads of "including, but not limited to"). I sometimes review the work of junior engineers who could be accused of "trying to write in what they consider an impressively official/bureaucratic sounding register" (as J.W. Brewer said), yet I've never seen this.

    I have seen "pneumonic" substituted for "mnemonic," but I that may have been a Cupertino.

  13. marie-lucie said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    "pneumonic" substituted for "mnemonic," but I that may have been a Cupertino.</i.

    A Cupertino works in writing, but I have heard people say "(p)neumonic" when they obviously meant "(m)nemonic".

  14. marie-lucie said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

    (sorry, I forgot to look at the preview and add the final arrow).

  15. Neal Goldfarb said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    Note to Mr. McBerry: Vividly repeating the accusations against you in your denial might not be the most effective rhetorical strategy.

    I attempted to have an affair with my former campaign manager…

    I somehow “stole” sole custody of my son years ago from his mother…

    I have had some sort of sexual or sexually improper relationship with underaged girls…

    I am no longer allowed to teach in the state of Georgia…

    I am somehow unpatriotic…

    [(myl) Yes, I decided to quote the whole paragraph (taken from a much longer message) because it seemed to be such a good example of what not to do, from the point of view of political rhetoric.]

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

    In response to Nathan Meyers, this is perhaps the difficulty often noted by myl with talking about statistical concepts in natural language. The claim is not that the range of political opinion among university faculty is truncated in the sense that there are literally zero professors to the right of some given point (assuming one could put everything on a single one-dimensional scale, which is itself a problematic assumption). Rather the claim is that the distribution looks substantially different for academics than the general population, so that the academic median is substantially left of the national median and the sort of right-wingers who might make up say 20-25% of the national population are a tiny tail several standard deviations from the median in the academic distribution (and/or that it's not a truly symmetric bell curve, but has a fatter left tail than right tail). For one data point, consider the study of party registration of the faculty in 23 diferent disciplines at Stanford + UC-Berkeley which found in linguistics 13 Democrats to 1 Republican, at page 16 here: http://www.ratio.se/pdf/wp/dk_aw_voter.pdf. (General population in the Bay Area is obviously not 1:1 in D/R ratio, but it ain't 13:1 either.) I don't think this basic empirical point is seriously disputed although obviously opinions vary as to the cause of the phenomenon and whether it should be regarded as a problem, a nothing, or indeed a badge of honor for the academy.

    I actually have no feel at all for how right-wing in a general sense Professor Yoo is, beyond his having taken controversial positions in a single high-profile area of disputed public policy.

  17. Bloix said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

    Yoo was a highly placed official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. While there, he wrote a confidential memorandum that provided a legal justification for torture. Any competent lawyer can see that the analysis in the memo is faulty. He wrote it for the file, with the expectation that it would never see the light of day. He knew it would be used to justify torture. Members of the CIA, in reliance on the authoriity provided by this memo, then tortured, crippled, and killed men and boys who had never been charged with any crime. The memo, written in 2003, became public in only 2008 as the result of a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The extent of the torture and murder is still being suppressed by the government.

    It takes a remarkable amount of creativity to describe Yoo's involvement in these events as "having taken controversial positions in a single high profile area of disputed public policy," as if he were some guy with a blog and not an instrumental enabler of secret war crimes.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

    I appreciate Bloix's vigorously erudite clarification, but (trying desperately to remain on-topic) I consider my question answered.

  19. Rubrick said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

    I shall fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to limit my absurdities.

  20. Will said,

    March 15, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

    I have been personally accused of, but not limited to, the following list of absurdities

    When I read that, my mind's language processor automatically expands it to this:

    I have been personally accused of the following list of absurdities, but I have not been limited to the following list of absurdities

    This is of course an absurd thought, so that interpretation doesn't stick for long, but this construction is definitely kind of garden-pathy for me. (gardenpathesque? gardenpathic? garden-pathetic?)

    [(myl) In this case, definitely garden-pathetic.]

  21. Brad said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 3:08 am

    I must need to increase the variety of my reading, because the "but not limited to" clauses in the examples read to me like they had been misplaced. Has "among other things" really lost that much favor?

  22. Colin John said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 9:10 am

    I've only come across this form in the UK in a cinema, preceding a list of recording devices you may not use. I assume the message given out before films in the UK is the same as that given out before movies in the US. It certainly always jars with me when I hear it although, in context, there is no issue over the meaning.

  23. Mark P said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    @myl: thanks for the additional information on McBerry. I see that I need not look further into his background to make a decision about him.

  24. Nathan Myers said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

    Whenever you see a list like this, the immediately relevant question is what's not on it. Of course you won't find that written there. In this case, he scrupulously fails to deny the accusation of idiocy.

  25. Lugubert said,

    March 16, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    My reactions to "including, but not limited to" are always
    1. Why not "for example"? IANAL, but I think that "for example" is quite acceptable in Swedish law texts.
    2. The writer's fantasy has run out.
    and sometimes, like Nathan, like,
    3. What did they censor out?

  26. Halykan said,

    March 19, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    IANAL? Is that . . . "I am not a lawyer?" I'm quite surprised that's used often enough to have developed its own acronym.

    Myself, I agree with the earlier poster – I suspect that the gentleman used that construction as a jab at the "absurdity" of the allegations; he used that specific phrasing to suggest that more allegations would be forthcoming just as soon as they could think of some nastier ones.

    Personally, I happen to find that usage rather clever, but exhaustively listing the faults your opponents accuse you of is probably not the best tactic for attaining public office. And undoubtedly, when speaking publicly, while subtle turns of phrase will win points with the writers in the crowd you're most likely going to benefit from simplifying the language to be understood unambiguously.

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