On one of my pages, I have the following text:

If a tie occurs, the tie is broken as follows: Spicy beats Dry beats Sweet beats Bitter beats Sour, and Spicy beats Sour.

This text explains how ties are broken, for example, Spicy wins over Dry, and Dry wins over Sweet.

Is it good style or usage to chain each item with "beats" this way? It's not mentioned in Garner's Modern American Usage or in Pocket Fowler's, as far as I can tell. Does the chaining of "beats" make the text confusing or otherwise not ideal?

I'm also interested in learning the origin of this form, "X beats Y beats Z", which is a so-called "anti-grammatical" form. When did it start? Why did writers use this form rather than "X beats Y, which beats Z"? Is this form mentioned in any reference works?

Here are some examples I've just found:

  • Sounds fine to me, and I can't think of any clearer way to write it. Grammatical purists might object. – Peter Shor May 4 '12 at 14:55
  • Belongs on writers.st -- voting to close as off-topic on EL&U. – Kris May 4 '12 at 14:57
  • Would the same structure in another language present a different set of problems? – Kris May 4 '12 at 14:59
  • @Kris: Writers? As of now I was only familiar with English Stack Exchange, Stack Overflow, and so on. The network seems to be growing so fast. – Peter O. May 4 '12 at 15:04
  • 1
    "Spicy beats Dry beats Sweet beats Bitter beats Sour" is clear enough, but you then say "Spicy beats Sour". Because one would automatically deduce the latter by transitivity, saying it separately is confusing. – James Waldby - jwpat7 May 4 '12 at 16:57

This text explains how ties are broken, for example, Spicy wins over Dry, and Dry wins over Sweet.

What you have started here is a clearer way to say it, at least to my ear. For example:

Spicy beats dry, dry beats sweet, sweet beats bitter, bitter beats sour, and spicy beats sour (or bitter and spicy beat sour).

  • I also wanted to convey, for example, that Spicy beats Bitter, or Dry beats Sour. Would it work to say, somehow, that the five things are ranked? – Peter O. May 4 '12 at 15:09
  • Certainly. I would advise you to use any and all descriptions necessary in the interest of communicating clear rules. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 May 4 '12 at 15:10
  • 4
    I've decided to use the following: "If a tie occurs, then the flavors are ranked as follows to break the tie: Spicy first, then Dry, then Sweet, then Bitter, then Sour." – Peter O. May 4 '12 at 15:25
  • 2
    This discussion reminds me of this picture – J.R. May 4 '12 at 21:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.