Popova Tuples

When I encounter writers who are unusually compelling I try to understand the qualities that make them so. Usually this is very difficult, stemming from a nebulous conjunction of factors like ‘style’ and ‘structure’ which make them especially clear and memorable. Sam Harris, Eric Raymond, Tom Woods, and Paul Graham all fit into this category.

In the case of Maria Popova the answer is at least partly obvious: she makes exquisite use of what I’m going to call ‘Popova Tuples’, these charming little word pairs which are nearly always alliterative and cause her writing to shimmer like jewels glimpsed on the shores of a distant river.

A philosopher isn’t ‘good’, he is ‘lucid and luminous’. Advice isn’t ‘germane’, it’s ‘timely and timeless’.

This can be extended to whole phrases, such as a personal non-Popova favorite: ‘Nobody owns you, nobody owes you’. (I thought this was from Ayn Rand but couldn’t turn up an attribution.)

If used properly these might be a way of utilizing the concept of ‘pebble forms’. Try to coin the sorts of ringing phrases which will eventually replace the full scope of your ideas, because no matter what you do that’s what’s going to eventually happen. At least this way you can exercise more control over the process and mitigate the resulting loss of comprehension.

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