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Parallelism. The word itself sports a pair of rails, conjuring images of things perfectly aligned. Rows of corn. Ribs of corduroy. Rings of latitude. When you write and speak, you align words. You do this naturally. You dash off to the store saying, “I’m going to get pistachios, tuna, and champagne.” You don’t think, I’m aligning a series of nouns. The nouns line themselves up. Words seek their own kind, says Sheridan Baker, “noun to noun, adjective to adjective, infinitive to infinitive” (The Practical Stylist, 1998).
If only words sought their own kind with more gusto. It surprises me how often I come across near misses. For example, the author bio on the back of a book about using voicemail effectively includes this clunker:
“Sheldon has worked for corporations, associations, and in leadership roles for nonprofit organizations.”
If Sheldon [false name] had channeled his inner shopper while writing, for a split second his thoughts would have run like this: I’m going to pick up some corporations, some associations, and some nonprofits. His thoughts would have run like this because a grocery list, by definition a set of nouns, is a model of parallelness. The “grocery list” hidden in Sheldon’s original statement looks like this: