1

NABBING A DISEASE hotspot is to epidemic control what locking up a serial perpetrator is to crime investigation.

Can I change it to below, and which one is right?

  1. What nabbing a disease hotspot is to epidemic control is locking up a serial perpetrator to crime investigation.
  2. What nabbing a disease hotspot is to epidemic control is what locking up a serial perpetrator is to crime investigation.
1

Just to make the structure absolutely clear, let's make the following substitutions...

nabbing a disease hotspot = A
epidemic control = B
locking up a serial perpetrator = X
crime investigation = Y

After substitution, we see that OP's two different structures are...

1: What A is to B is X to Y
2: What A is to B is what X is to Y

...from which it should be obvious that #1 isn't actually idiomatic1 - even with single-letter placeholders for the 4 elements being compared and contrasted. But although #2 is idiomatically acceptable in that shortened form, the syntactic relationships are a bit confusing when some or all of A, B, X, Y are relatively "extended" noun phrases.

To make that relationship clearer with longer texts, it would be better to expand on the second instance of the word is (which plays a completely different role to the first and last instances)...

2a: What A is to B is corresponds to what X is Y
2b: What A is to B is the same as what X is Y
...both of which mean...
A relates to B in the same way that X relates to Y


1 The "idiomatic" way to draw a parallel between the A:B and X:Y relationships - or at least, the standard "formal, academic" phrasing - is...

A is to B as X is to Y

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Alternate version 1 doesn't mean the same as the original, and it doesn't work. It's not a comparison; rather it is saying that nabbing a disease hotspot is literally locking up a serial predator. But, then, "to crime investigation" isn't attached any more.

Alternate version 2 means the same as the original, but it isn't as easy to read and understand.

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  • I think you're mistaken about there being potential different meanings here. They both mean the same thing, but discarding the second instance of pronominal what in the first version is excessively "clipped" syntax, that's not really idiomatic even if every other element of the complete utterance is extremely short. (Which it ain't, here, so that one is a complete non-starter.) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 21 at 16:27
  • @FFRM I think your own diagram, "what A is to B is X to Y", shows that it tries to equate two unlike things. But, at least you think it's unidiomatic. :-) . – Jack O'Flaherty May 21 at 19:42

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