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shameless pleading

Range (stove)

I’ll stick with my Hasbro EZ Bake, thanks.

Dear Word Detective: Most of the senses of “range” have to do with either physical distance or area (e.g., the range of an aircraft, firing range, mountain range) or figurative distance (e.g., vocal range, range of prices). However, there’s one sense of “range” that I don’t see how it fits in: a stove with burners on top and an oven below. Am I missing something here? Some long-lost marketing campaign tied to “home on the range”? I don’t see how the “stove” meaning is “in range of” the other meanings. — Phil Fernandez.

That’s a darn good question. Speaking of ranges, any House Hunter fans out there? You know, the HGTV show where people pretend to buy houses? Anybody else notice that lately the shows seem to be following a very unimaginative script? “I don’t care for these countertops.” “I need a man cave to brew my beer.” “That closet looks haunted.” “This range isn’t stainless steel.” It’s gotten to the point where you can sit on the couch and shout the lines like an audience at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

To explain how “range” came to mean “cooking stove,” we really have to start with the word “stove” itself and the evolution thereof. When “stove” first appeared in English in the 15th century, probably from Dutch or German roots, it meant “heated room,” i.e., a “sweating room” or steam bath. “Stove” was later applied to a bedroom or other “normal” room in the house that was heated with some sort of small furnace. By the end of the 16th century, “stove” was being applied to the heating apparatus itself, both those used to heat rooms and those used for cooking. Although today we think of cooking when we hear “stove,” small heating stoves are still used in many parts of the world, and our modern “space heaters” are descendants of the early stoves used to heat individual rooms.

“Range” first appeared in English in the late 14th century, formed from the same Germanic roots that gave us “rank.” The initial meaning of “range” was “a line or row of people, animals or things, particularly a row of soldiers.” This “row of things” sense gave us “mountain ranges” as well as “range” used to mean a large area or stretch of ground, especially one used for a particular purpose (“firing range,” “testing range,” etc.). “Range” was also used to mean a set of things falling within a given category (“a wide range of flat-screen TVs”), as well as the distance or area reachable by, or scope of action of, a device, etc. (range of a gun, radio station, etc.).

“Range” meaning “stove” is actually one of the older senses of the word, first appearing in the early 15th century. This sense employs the word in its original meaning of “row or series of things,” and in a “range” stove the “things” are multiple burners and ovens. Early cooking stoves were essentially racks mounted in large open fireplaces, but in the 14th century enclosed ovens, with openings on top for heating sauces, etc., were developed in France and the modern “range” was born. Early ranges were so-called because they usually had more than one oven and usually at least two cooking spots on top, furnishing a “range” of places to cook. Today’s modern “ranges” usually have at least four burners and frequently two ovens, furnishing the modern home chef with an awesome culinary power only dreamed of by the cooks of 14th century France. Of course, they might be less impressed by the fact that, according to surveys,  most of those ovens are only used to heat up frozen pizza.

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