Asked • 03/21/19

What are the principles that make certain lists sound euphonious?

Has this ever happened to you: You write a question, include a list or two in the discussion, and then come back to edit that list because the order doesn't sound "right"? Off the top of my head, I can remember it happening to me twice here on English L&U: I changed _God, man, and nature_ to read _man, nature, and God_ when answering one question, and the tireless **kiamlaluno** edited a question of mine from _trunk...boot_ to _boot...trunk_.Why in fact do certain constructions of lists sound more pleasant to the ear than others?Why can't it be _child, man, and woman_ rather than _man, woman, and child_? All the principles I can think of, such as ordering by "natural" progression, ordering by length of word, and ordering to preserve internal rhyme, seem to have exceptions or be violated for some sayings. Does one principle have supremacy over the other? Are there any others I'm missing? And finally, how can we be sure what sounds pleasant isn't just historical inertia carried over from a first well-recognized coinage?

John K.

Several other factors contribute to the sounds in a list. The sound of English has a natural beat and it is better to follow the natural rhythm. Certain stock phrases, like man, woman, and child, sound incorrect if you change them. Certain consonants at the end of one word conflict with the starting consonants of the next word. The sound of the outcome is the deciding factor.
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03/28/19

1 Expert Answer

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Elizabeth B. answered • 04/01/19

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