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To denote that something applies to a wide range of items you can use the phrase "from ... to ... to ...", e.g.

Animals can live anywhere, from forests to deserts to deepest pits of the oceans.

I don't see how should I interpret the phrase. Are the forests and deepest pits of the oceans extremities of a range, with deserts being a middle ground? If so, why is the same preposition used twice to mean two different things?

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Commonly when it's used it's a rhetoric tool for emphasis too, it stresses each item you list and punctuates each one with a defined gap between from. "From a to b to c to d" – SuperBiasedMan Jan 13 at 12:43
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@cobaltduck That's God Bless America. – jejorda2 Jan 13 at 13:25
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So the answer is no, these are not part of clearly-defined ranges in any absolute sense: there is no way to vary a forest into a desert or a desert into the deepest pit of an ocean. This is instead an idiom which introduces a lot of examples to help you feel the wide diversity of possibilities. This is equivalent to "Animals can live anywhere: some live in forests, others live in deserts, still others live in the deepest pits of the oceans, and that's a small sampling of the vast number of places where you can find them." – CR Drost Jan 13 at 17:39
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I suppose, "From A to B to C" could be interpreted as "the convex hull of A, B, and C". It is certainly not meant as "The path starting at A and going via B to C". – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 13 at 17:52
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@jimm101 I didn't want to take the math analogy too far – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 13 at 22:51
up vote 24 down vote accepted

It may be a bit too idiomatic instantly to grasp. However:

Animals can live anywhere, from forests to deserts ... and ... from said deserts to deepest pits of the oceans.

The second "from," and that which follows it, is dropped in the name of brevity and verve. Fascinating, isn't it?

You can use as many "to's" as you like, by the way. Like this:

Animals can live anywhere, from forests to deserts to deepest pits of the oceans to mountaintops to cities to other planets so long as there's a bit of oxygen and lunch is served regularly.

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I would add that the "from ... to ... to ..." form emphasizes the open-endedness (non-exhaustivity) of the list in a way that "from ... to ..." does not. – Mario Carneiro Jan 13 at 18:33
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I wish to emphasize, that world has more than one dimension, so from forests to deserts and from said deserts to deepest pits of the oceans needs not to describe deserts as a middle ground. – loa_in_ Jan 13 at 20:37

Are the forests and deepest pits of the oceans extremities of a range, with deserts being a middle ground?

Typically this is not intended to indicate a middle point between two extremes, but another dimension or member of a category. Deserts, deepest pits of the oceans and forests are three members of a category varying along multiple dimensions, not along a single continuum. The phrase generally gives emphasis to the breadth, of a concept, and how the application of the concept is universal.

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I think this answer is spot on with the notion of dimensions and variety. If you're mathematically inclined, consider this: in one dimension, the range 1 to 2 to 5 is no different from the range 1 to 5, but in 2 (or more) dimensions, the path "a to b to c" can draw out a wide 2-dimensional range (containing a varied set of points), whereas "a to c" is simply a 1-dimensional range. Each item in the "from..to..to" construct is intended to show a different dimension/category that the prior items couldn't fully capture. – Fabio Beltramini Jan 13 at 18:59

If I say that I listen to lots of different artists

From Beethoven to Led zeppelin

You don't really have an idea to what kind of music I listen (except Beethoven and led zeppelin), because music is quite arbitrary (and so are living environments).
Unlike "from 1 to 10", which leave no doubt about the numbers I mean. So to make it more clear I can say.

From Beethoven to Justin Bieber to Led zeppelin

It makes the range of artist bigger. The order does not matter. But give you a bit more insight to my music taste.

Animals can live anywhere, from deserts to forests to deepest pits of the oceans. (changed the order)

Still means that animals can live on the same place

So the multiple 'to's are used to clearify the range between arbitrary terms

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Consider:

I took a small plane across North America, from New York to Chicago to Denver to San Francisco.

from...to...to...to...etc

is a way of traversing a range, whether actual (as in my example) or figurative (as in the OP).

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This isn't what the OP's case means, even figuratively. The OP's case doesn't unpack to "from A to B, then from B to C, then from C to D", which is an alternate example of "my flight goes from New York to Atlanta to San Jose". In this case, it's "the airline flies everywhere, from New York to Paris to Timbuktu". – jimm101 Jan 13 at 17:07
    
@jimm101I would say it addresses part of OP's question--are the x, y, and z on a range with x and z at extremes and y in the middle. This gives an example of the structure that doesn't imply that; therefore, we should not expect the idiom to necessarily imply that. – msouth Jan 13 at 19:55
    
A range need not have a specific order (legs of a journey); it can be like a "bag" (to use OOP terminology). Something can be "wide-ranging". We can "roam" a range, i.e. visiting spots in no specific sequence. Ordered ranges, unordered ranges. The OP has an unordered range. – Tim Romano Jan 13 at 19:56
    
When selected points on an unordered range are enumerated (in no particular order) they define a periphery not a continuum. – Tim Romano Jan 13 at 20:09

Nope, not necessarily extremities. It's using the contrast of the different places to imply range or breadth of coverage. It's a way of emphasising that, by listing examples. Sometimes the examples don't relate at all, or only in some arbitrary fashion: John excelled in many areas, from mathematics, to singing, to soccer.

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