10

I wrote a (unrhymed) couplet, because I couldn't find a good enough example:

She ran the comb through her hair ebony
As the night fell upon the land of light.

Is there a situation where reversing the natural word order is ill-advised or completely wrong. In this simple situation, I don't think there's anything wrong. Also, is this considered good style?

  • 6
    There is this famous sentence in Norwegian, that with the misplacement (or omission) of a comma becomes directly the opposite. "Hang him not, wait till I get there" becomes "Hang him, don't wait till I get there". Be sure to avoid radically changing the meaning of your sentence when you mess around with the order... – Stian Yttervik Jan 29 at 13:01
34

It's never good style to depart from standard usage without a good reason. It just makes things harder to read and understand. In your example, the meaning is clear, but there's nothing about it that makes it preferable to the more standard "ebony hair."

There could be many possible "good reasons" to invert word order. With that said, the fact that you couldn't find any actual examples argues against this being a widely useful practice. I've only ever heard this used in poetry, typically to make rhyme or rhythm work out, or in imitation of a language where this is standard (like French or Spanish).

Even in poetry, I would use it only sparingly. There's a real difference between indulging in the additional freedoms available to a poet ("poetic license") in the service of the sound of a passage, and abusing them in the belief that breaking the rules is itself intrinsically poetic.

14

Is there a situation where reversing the natural word order is ill-advised or completely wrong.

Yes. Consider a simple sentence such as "Mary ate an apple." Using anastrophe, you could write this as subject-object-verb ("Mary an apple ate"), object-subject-verb ("an apple Mary ate") or even object-verb-subject ("an apple ate Mary"). The last one is a bit dodgy but you could probably get away with using any of them, if you had a good reason to: the key point is that nobody's going to assume you're talking about a man-eating apple.

But now consider "Cain murdered Abel". Rewrite it as "Abel murdered Cain" and you've completely changed the meaning: everyone will assume that Abel is now the murderer. Rewrite it as "Cain Abel murdered" and who knows how many people will assume subject-object-verb and object-subject-verb.

So there are certainly cases where anastrophe completely obscures the meaning of the sentence. That's ill-advised and I'd suggest that "Abel murdered Cain" is so ill-advised that it's completely wrong.

  • 1
    I don't know - I instantly thought "man-eating apple" with that example. I would not use that formation under any circumstance. Possibly if you threw a comma in there: "An apple, ate Mary", but even then it's just too awkward. (Unless you read it in Yoda-voice...) – Darrel Hoffman Jan 29 at 18:20
  • 2
    "nobody's going to assume you're talking about a man-eating apple" It appears to be a woman-eating apple. – Acccumulation Jan 29 at 21:23
3

You asked (or stated):

Is there a situation where reversing the natural word order is ill-advised or completely wrong.

Not absolutely! And by that, mean I, no of the absolute kind. :)

I think anastrophe would best be used in technical documentation.

Things like:

Window appears, click OK button do or do not. Save your settings, it may, but if button clicked then settings may instead not be unsaved. Click button do not, saving the settings, or exiting without saving.

Plus there is the benefit of the user not knowing whether she is to blame for not saving her settings because she doesn't understand the instructions or there is a bug in the system so this is advantageous.

Note: I couldn't resist this one because anastrophe is a great word (thanks to be introducing me to that one).

Here's my serious answer.
Why, in poetry, would there be any reason against anastrophe? Maybe only because of overuse. Nothing should be overused. So anastrophe-on and keep on anastrophing.

The effect is quite poetic and may allow the poetry to become more rhythmic and pleasant to the ear. It may also create interesting interpretations of the meaning.

  • 5
    I'm afraid I downvoted this. The parody portion is very confusing, and I'm not convinced by the serious portion. – Chris Sunami Jan 28 at 21:36
  • 3
    Reverse or reverse do not. There is no try. – Carl Witthoft Jan 29 at 14:00

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.