Tuesday, May 29, 2012


     I’ve long been a big fan of using parentheses, those curved symbols used to separate additional information that’s not necessarily relevant to the immediate sentence’s point.  A few teachers in my life noticed this, and tried to dissuade me, but I’m unrepentant, and unmoved.  I don’t use them gratuitously—that is, I’m not using them just for the sake of using them (with rare exceptions, like maybe in this post).  I think I always use them in the correct manner.  It’s just that additional but not immediately relevant information often springs to mind when I write, whether it’s a short story or an email to friends.  (I do, admittedly, use postscripts gratuitously, but that’s another story.)
     The (small) amount of research I did for this post informed me that I’m not alone in this—William Faulkner was evidently another parentheses proponent (say that five times fast), especially in “Absalom, Absalom!” and “The Sound and the Fury.”  E.E. Cummings was another notable practitioner (although unlike him, I’m not against the use of capital letters or periods after initials in personal names).
     There are several types of parentheses, too.  Often, all of these types are labeled as being various types of brackets, although in the U.S. the kind I use is usually considered the distinct, and different, parentheses.  For example, the sort I’ve mentioned are the curved, half moon-shaped symbols--) and ( .  Then there’s the squared off brackets—[ and ], called “square” or “closed” brackets, used mainly in quotations (to indicate missing material provided by a later editor), in chemistry, or in certain types of math.  Other types are curly brackets—{ and }; angle or chevron brackets (I can’t include examples of this kind—my keyboard is unfortunately lacking); inequality or pointy brackets--< and >; angular quote brackets--<< and >>; and corner brackets (also not on my keyboard).  Most of these latter types are rarer, and used largely in linguistics, math, hard sciences, or computer programming.  Curly brackets seem to have the most, and sometimes silliest names, called, among others, “birdie brackets,” “Scottish brackets,” “squirrelly brackets,” “fancy brackets,” “seagull brackets,” and “DeLorean brackets.”  (I didn’t look up the reasoning behind this last one, as I want to believe that it has to do with the car maker/accused (but acquitted) drug trafficker John DeLorean in general, and “Back to the Future” specifically, and I don’t want to lose my plausible deniability.)
     I also enjoy that within parentheses, all punctuation is independent—you can have an exclamation pointed sentence, and then another sentence with a question mark, etc., within the original sentence ending in, say, a period.  This appeals to the rebellious side of me.  (Perhaps paradoxically, I’m a strict constructionist on quotation marks, though—I hate, HATE it when stream of consciousness type books don’t include them, as I wish to conclusively know if someone’s talking, or if it’s instead a thought, or the narrator, or something else.)  I’ve also learned that parentheses are uncommon, and discouraged, in formal writing.  This hasn’t affected me much, as my formal writing days ended in college, but, still, good to know.  Finally, I was amused to see that something I sometimes do, having parentheses within parentheses, is okay (or at least they’re as okay as parentheses ever are) and even has a name—the inner set is “nested,” and is typically made into a square pair of brackets within the rounded, parentheses to better separate them.
     So, if you’re new to my writings, in whatever form, I should warn you:  You’re going to see parentheses, and most likely a whole slew of them (this might be wrong—I know it’s a “pride” of lions, a “band” of gorillas, a “murder”(!) of crows, and a “business” of ferrets, but I’m not sure of the proper group name of parentheses).  By the way, I considered making this entire post one immense parenthetical aside, enclosed within parentheses, but I realized it wouldn’t be grammatically proper so I didn’t.  (That’s a lie.  I thought it would be too “on the nose,” so to speak, and it would only really look cool with two giant parentheses, and alas, my keyboard doesn’t have these either.)


  1. I 'm a fan of parentheses as well. There's just something fun about them. :)

  2. Alyson, obviously I couldn't agree more. They're fun, and necessary. Thanks for reading.