This is a bit hard to explain, so here's an example:

His room was an exact replica of mine. The only difference were the things he had brought along: his zoology books, his backpack, and of course his climbing equipment. Little objects that told me something about him, but that at the same time, pushed him further away, into a mist of knowledge and practicality.

As you can see, the second list follows the 'sequence' of the first one:

Knowledge = zoology books

Practicality = his backpack, climbing equipment

Do writers follow this rule? Or it doesn't matter?

The reason I ask is because I want to write a mist of practicality and knowledge instead (it sounds better to me for some weird reason).

  • 1
    I don't think it makes any difference which order you put them in, but I object to using "mist" to describe two very hard, down-to-earth concepts. Knowledge is concrete: I know something. Practicality is working with your hands, it's tactile, it's real. There is nothing nebulous or "misty" about either of those qualities. Oct 26 '14 at 0:25
  • @LaurenIpsum I think the "mist" is intended to apply to the relationship, i.e., the narrator is not an intellectual and is perhaps more spontaneous than practical so the other person's focus on practicality and knowledge is alien (mysterious, difficult to grasp, separating, thus "misty"). The intent (I think) was to contrast ("but") the revelation of the other's nature (usually associated with drawing closer in relationship) with the separation from their differences (which was not like a wall or chasm but "misty"). Oct 26 '14 at 6:08
  • A mist formed of many small items for storing and acquiring knowledge and items of practicality.
    – user5645
    Oct 26 '14 at 9:07
  • @what no, a mist is a fog, it's something you can't touch. A mist can't be formed of individual items. Oct 26 '14 at 12:59
  • 1
    Ocean is way better. It's a solid thing which is infinitely large and vast. Oct 26 '14 at 22:59

Your question makes me come up with the following example:

For twenty years I lived in the land of milk and honey - along with the bees and cows.

To me, this sounds better than:

For twenty years I lived in the land of milk and honey - along with the cows and bees.

I can't explain (though I find Lauren Ipsum's explanation in the comment below quite plausible), and others might disagree, but my gut feeling says that in this case it is better to reverse the order.

Following up on the comments, "practicality and knowledge" sounds better to me than "knowledge and practicality", because /ˈnɑlədʒ/ has only one stressed syllable, while /ˌpræktəˈkælədi/ has at least two (and more syllables overall), which creates two rhythmic patterns:

knowledge and practicality
  /  x    x     /  x / x x

practicality and knowledge
  /  x / x x x     /  x

/ = stressed, x = unstressed; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scansion

The second rhythmic pattern ("p. and k.") has a distinctive finishing subpattern at the end (/ x), while the first pattern ("k. and p.") sort of "peters out".

Which pattern works better in your context would depend on what kind of effect you prefer: a strong, finalising statement ("p. and k.") or a more uncertain, open almost-question ("k. and p.").

  • 2
    you could add that the word often used to show the matching is "respectively", because often the order is changed for the benefit of rhythm, as you demonstrated. "I lived for twenty years in the land of milk and honey, made by the cows and bees, respectively" (Imagine you don't know what milk or honey is): "I lived in the land of Krush and Prill, made by the Mogobeasts and Rapticores, respectively"
    – Mac Cooper
    Oct 25 '14 at 20:25
  • 1
    Chiasmus is a common mechanism. Oct 25 '14 at 20:56
  • 3
    "Bees and cows" sounds better because of the vowels. It goes from EE (high sound) to OW (low sound). OW is a finishing sound. "Cows and bees" ends the thought on a high note, and it sounds jarring. Oct 26 '14 at 0:23
  • "Dot and dash your i s and t s" doesn't sound so nice to me, though, with or without "respectively," in that or another order.
    – Kris
    Oct 30 '14 at 17:42

First, they don't have to, a one-to-one correspondence is not mandatory.

That said, they are two different narrative styles, the former simpler and faster to scan, the latter much superior literally, reflecting a creative twist added in. Occasional use of the latter can be enriching. (Also tests the reviewer's acuity.)


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