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. Commented Oct 26, 2014 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").
    – user5232
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 6:08
  • A mist formed of many small items for storing and acquiring knowledge and items of practicality.
    – user5645
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 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. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 12:59
  • 1
    Ocean is way better. It's a solid thing which is infinitely large and vast. Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


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
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 20:25
  • 1
    Chiasmus is a common mechanism.
    – user5232
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 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. Commented Oct 26, 2014 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
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 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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