- “You’ve changed.”
- “I know.”
- “I mean, you’re not the person you were.”
- “And you’re not the person I thought you were.”
Parallel construction is bad in a dialogue exchange, but it sounds just as bad when one character says the entire couplet. In a recent episode of “The Blacklist” (Yes, I’m still watching that one too. I need help.), James Spader is tracking down a killer using a dog hair from a crime scene, and he muses aloud to his henchman, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they do make some lives whole.” Ugh.
It’s a lot of fun to use that sort of parallel construction when you’re writing something down, and it’s fun to read. It’s creates a bit of additional meaning to take a turn of phrase and then turn it on its head, creating a “compare and contrast” moment, and giving your language a little poetic lilt.
But people don’t say that sort of thing out loud. Our brains just aren’t wired that way. We aren’t that conscious of how our words line up. Also, as I’ve said before, we talk with the assumption that we’re about to be interrupted, so we don’t set up elaborate constructions due to the fear that we won’t be able to finish them.
In real life, that exchange between Spader and his henchman would have gone something like this.
- “Dogs are not our whole life, but—“
- “—Yes they are. I love my dog.”
- “I know you do, but—“
- “—There’s no but about it. He’s my huggums-wuggums.”
- “I know, I know, he’s a great dog, that was my whole point, asshole! If you hadn’t interrupted me, I would have said ‘but they do make some lives whole.’”
- “Oh, I see what you were trying to do: ‘whole life / life whole’, that’s cute. You should write greeting cards.”
- “Go eat a dick.”