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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

symmetry, structuring the pattern of your words to create balance and


artist: metamorfize

so today i came across the below paragraph, and i think it offers us a really easy chance to brush-up on the idea of parallelism: a term that (in grammar circles) means structuring the pattern of your words to create balance and symmetry.

here's the paragraph (note the words i've bolded).

"The book is modernity’s quintessential technology—“a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of a turning page,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky put it. But now that the rustle of the book’s turning page competes with the flicker of the screen’s twitching pixel, we must consider the possibility that the book may not be around much longer. If itisn ’t—if we choose to replace the book—what will become of reading and the print culture it fostered? And what does it tell us about ourselves that we may soon retire this most remarkable, five-hundred-year-old technology?"

at its most basic, parallelism uses the same word structure to create balance--example: "i like hiking, jogging, and kayaking." okay, that sentence works. but now imagine I wrote, "i like hiking, jogging, and to kayak." um, yeah, not so much.

easy stuff. so let's move toward the more advanced level, which goes something like this: if you pay attention to professional writers, you'll see them employ parallelism to preserve the flow and clarity of their more intricate and involved sentences. in the words, the longer and more intricate a sentence becomes, the more it craves a balanced pattern--because it's that balance, after all, which keeps the sentence smooth and rhythmic.

look again at the sentence.

"But now that the rustle of the book’s turning page competes with the flicker of the screen’s twitching pixel, we must [...]."

"the-rustle-of-the-book's-turning-page"

which grammatically translate* as "article-noun-preposition-article-noun-adjective-noun."

and the words "the flicker of the screen's twitching pixel" are an exact grammatical match: "article-noun-preposition-article-noun=adjective-noun."

that's how it's done.

now as some sort of pedantic refresher course on parallelism, this post means absolutely nothing. which is fine, because i'm only really really this point: just as math freaks can "see" The Math, visually watching numbers zip and zoom into their most natural answer, the same is true for professional writers. they can see the syntax often before they even see the words.

for us mere mortals, however, we've only briefly tasted such a gift. but taste it we have. i'd bet that anyone reading this blog has, at some point, seen the syntax line itself up, and just slid the words into their most natural slots.

ah, to live!

and what we'd pay for another chance.

which is part of the reason we read, read, read. and while we do, noting parallelism as we go. lingering over its particular math. before dipping back into the text--knowing that our reading is slowly revolutionizing our writing.

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*i'm blindly guessing as to the proper way to grammatically parse those words. i doubt i got exactly it right. but i got it right enough to preserve my point.

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