In a literary analysis I am preparing, I toyed with the following sentence: "Sections [A] and [C] are symmetrically parallel." Am I unnecessarily redundant? Or is there a logical gap between the two concepts?

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    I don't know about literary analysis, but in mechanical stuff it's definitely possible for two things to be symmetric without being parallel, or to be parallel without being symmetric. – Hot Licks Aug 18 '16 at 18:41
  • In literary analysis, "logical gaps" are considered a positive boon. – deadrat Aug 18 '16 at 19:17
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    I believe 'unnecessarily redundant' is itself unnecessarily redundant. – DJClayworth Aug 18 '16 at 20:45
  • @DJClayworth exactly what I thought. – Helmar Aug 18 '16 at 20:47
  • . if you look at the broader definition of symmetry: "similarity, correspondence, or balance " then parallel is necessarily symmetric, but symmetric is not necessarily parallel, as with two things going on opposite directions, for example. So: "Sections A and C are parallel" is enough I think – P. O. Aug 18 '16 at 20:51

Unless you explain how the two sections are both symmetrical AND parallel, I wouldn't use that phrase. It's hard to imagine how the two sections would be both... Symmetry would look like: Section A: ABC, Section B: CBA. Also called a chiasmic structure. Parallelism is simply a very close similarity in structure: Section A: ABC, Section B: ABC.


I'm sure one could come up with specific technical mathematical instances where symmetric and parallel have non-trivial overlap. But in metaphorical usage for literary analysis they are near synonyms, with symmetry being a little more general than parallelism.

Just use one or the other depending on the context and implication: symmetric if the two passages/stories have additional similar properties, parallel if the linear expression unfolds in the same manner, replacing like with like.

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