It's hard to write those []s without Everything making it a link though. I've found "[" and "]" work, for making '[' and ']' appear, respectively.

* an informed send-up on some aspect of grammar, semantics or usage inspired by the Thurber piece on ‘Which’ in the Reader.

17/10/2002

BRACKETS

Of the five types of brackets, ( ), , { }, \ \, < >, parentheses (( )) are the ones which are most commonly used in prose. Square brackets () are frequently used to denote editorial intrusion into a piece of prose, and they are also used in mathematics (a field which I do not plan to step into today). Braces ({ }) the curly brackets that are (arguably) most fun to draw by hand are unfortunately (for keen writers/drawers) not used in prose, but rather in mathematics and linguistics. Slash brackets are used for dates (see top of this page for an example). And lastly, angle brackets (< >) have uses in mathematics and linguistics (again, those areas that I am not able (or keen) to explore), although you may have seen a re-emergence of angle brackets (a much celebrated comeback in the eyes of bracket-lovers) in recent times, with the growing popularity of handy little things we call web addresses.http://www.doesthislookfamiliar?.com. (Also, if you speak French, you may have noticed angle brackets being used instead of quote marks for dialogue, > .) You may have observed that when your attention is drawn to brackets, you notice them a lot more. I’m sure you wouldn’t have guessed that in the introductory 179 words above, twenty-one pairs of brackets were used! Yes they are sneaky (and useful (don’t think that I have anything against the little critters)) things, brackets.

So, let’s devote some time to parentheses, the kings (actually, that’s quite sexist, why should the rulers of brackets necessarily fall into the patriarchal paradigm of language? From now on, I will refer to brackets as feminine). Let me try to start that sentence again. So, let’s devote some time to parenthesis, the queens of brackets. Pam Peters in her discussion of parentheses points out that they: ‘often enclose a parenthical comment or parenthesis within a carrier sentence ’. She goes on to explain that three types of punctuation can be used to represent breaks in a sentence. Commas, those useful things, are used for a subtle separation. The next level of break (after the aforementioned commas) is parenthesis. The third – most severe – break is one made by dashes. Peters puts forward the view that ‘it seems unlikely…that all three levels can be usefully exploited in the same sentence.’ Oh really? Well, I wonder, (should I try this or not?) maybe we could give all three levels – confusing as they may be – a go.

Now we get to the hard bit. What to do if there are parenthesis within parenthesis? Should they be used as parentheses within parenthesis (this would be quite confusing (especially if one of the sentences was very drawn out, and the reader forgot where the second parenthesis, let alone the first began, and what line of thought was being presented before the first, or the second parenthesis (although I personally tend to use this technique (that of parenthesis within parenthesis (as you may have noticed as early on as the first paragraph of this paper))))) or not? The sixth edition of the Australian Style Manual says that ‘one set of parentheses should not be used inside another set’, unlike the fifth edition which claimed that this should ‘be avoided’, but could be tolerated. The Manual (both 5th and 6th eds) suggests that em rules should be used in combination with parentheses. The Chicago Manual of Style suggests combining parenthesis with square brackets, thus avoiding the confusion of having brackets within brackets (I’m beginning to get confused myself and I can barely understand this bracket stuff to tell you the truth). But how would editorial comments actually Natalia, I find this part a bit dry, do you think you could liven it up a bit? You might lose your audience here. You think you’re being funny but I strongly doubt anyone will be impressed. be marked, if not with the good old square brackets? The Right Word at the Right Time, like the Style Manual (I’m getting most of this from Pam Peters – I will acknowledge her at the end – from her excellent book Australian English Style Guide) suggests dashes be used within parentheses. The Chicago Manual of Style – which I mentioned earlier (remember, the part about the square brackets and parentheses?) – also allows the use of parentheses within dashes. Pam does not say anything about there being a need for more than two forms of punctuation to mark parentheses within carrier sentences (what I mean is, what if there is a bracket within a parenthesis perhaps marked with square brackets {to follow the Chicago example}, and then another bracket like the one just then what then?). Are we supposed to use curly brackets like what I have just done? Or should we dump the square, curly, angular and dashes and just pile parenthesis on parenthesis creating a bizarre collection of endless sideways smiles? (What are those ladies (women (womyn?)) smiling about anyway?)

Perhaps J.D. Salinger (that elusive author – the man who no one could locate ) gave brackets their most romantic usage when he offered ‘an unpretentious bouquet of parenthesis (((())))’ to his reader. In Seymour: An Introduction, Salinger attempted to write out thoughts as they occurred. This is why he heavily relied on parentheses (because (like it or not) we are always digressing as we think (and also when we speak)). Personally, I believe that this device (can using parenthesis to no end be called a device perhaps I’ll just use it because it seems as if I know what I am talking about {I am above all a student of writing and of the English language aren’t I? }?) was very successful, although perhaps a bit distracting. Why is it that we are able to think in endless digressions, piling one thought on top of another, remembering continual unrelated incidents and still be able to (more or less) continue a steady train of thought, yet when we actually write things as we think them (as I have been – whether successfully or not – trying to do in this piece) it seems to provoke irritation and fury (I got some friends to read this and they were to put it lightly quite annoyed ).

I must admit, while writing this paper I have come to love (is love to strong a word?) brackets in all their shapes and forms, and I have neglected to use the dashes that the Australian Style Guide would have me use (I should follow Australian rules I guess). I have failed (yes, failed ). In light of this admission, I will step down, leaving you in the hands of that very capable writer, Virginia Woolf (who liked to do follow a stream of consciousness herself ). Virginia loved using dashes, commas and semi-colons. So here is an excerpt from Orlando to satisfy your dash-starved sensibilities:

‘Sights disturbed him, like that of his mother, a very beautiful lady in green walking out to feed the peacocks with Twitchett, her maid, behind her; sights exhalted him – the birds and the trees; and made him in love with death – the evening sky, the homing rooks; and so, mounting up the spiral stairway into his brain – which was a roomy one – all these sights, and the garden sounds too, the hammer beating, the wood chopping, began that riot and confusion of the passions and emotions which every good biographer detests.’

My computer says ‘Long Sentence (no suggestions)’. It seems as if Virginia is beyond help, even by my trusty Microsoft Word 97. I feel like I am about to go crazy. Enough with the thoughts within thoughts within ideas within asides within comments within witticisms. To save myself from falling from this brink into madness, I will turn away from punctuation and towards Buddha. Perhaps ‘everything in moderation’ is the key, even when brackets are concerned.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.