Parentheses – Day 4

I love parentheses. They are easily my favorite punctuation. Need to say something that doesn’t quite fit into your sentence? Parentheses. Need to interject your voice a little more strongly into your writing? Parentheses. (Don’t think I can make it through a whole post about parentheses? Parentheses.)

Before the job I did this summer began, we had an e-mail chain introducing ourselves to everyone else working in the area. Under the “fun fact” section, I talked about how parentheses are my favorite punctuation. This was how I decided to introduce myself to people I’d never met – I love parentheses.

In the first three blog posts I’ve written for this project, I have used parentheses 23 times: 4 times in #1, 11 times in #2, and 8 times in #3. Some of the uses of parentheses were a bit more legitimate or necessary than others. Sometimes, I think I’m using too many sets of parentheses, but my brain will just say, no, you have commentary that you want to your sentence that is very important.

Part of me does think that parentheses are a useful tool, but they can be a cop out. Would a better writer be able to work this thought into a sentence without needing to stick the thought right in the middle of something else? Thoughts in parentheses are often closely enough related to the content that the thought could be turned into its own sentence. Other thoughts in parentheses don’t need to be shared at all.

Towards the end of my seminary experience, I did begin to go through my papers and change a lot of what had been in parentheses because their usage was getting a bit over the top. Even in the blog posts I notice when I begin using parentheses more often. As I write something through stream of consciousness, I often use the parentheses when a secondary thought comes to mind mid-sentence. Other times parentheses are used to inject humor into a sentence.

Parentheses are also interesting to me because of their use in math. Parentheses are the first order of operation: anything that happens in parentheses is calculated before anything else. They also signify multiplication: (3)(3) = 9, for example. Suddenly the parentheses take the front seat in the action, rather than being used for an idea which may not even be necessary.

In parentheses, I also seem to have found a topic for which it is incredibly difficult to write 1,000 words. I didn’t think the history of parentheses would be that interesting, but after just briefly searching for the history of their inception, I think it may be best to move on before I spend hours learning about how the parentheses came to be.

A major pet peeve of mine in writing is the misuse of punctuation. I’m sure I’ve had my own fair share of published punctuation errors – these m-dashes aren’t really m-dashes, and who knows if m-dash has a hyphen in it? My biggest pet peeve of all the punctuation errors, though…rather, tied for first, is not opening or closing a set of parentheses (the absence of the Oxford comma is the other). This happens most often when multiple parentheses are used together, and it always feels like a thought has not been completed, or like a piece of my heart has been ripped out.

I don’t think I’ll ever be truly able to shake using parentheses in my writing, because I don’t want to. As previously mentioned, it gives me the opportunity as the writer to inject even more of my voice into the text. I get to commentate on what is being said in the text, bringing in other interesting thoughts or connections that didn’t necessarily need to be there but still shed light on or explain a concept in a different way. As someone who wants to be able to help others think about different or difficult things in different ways, I find parentheses to be a useful tool, a shorthand that allows the reader to think about something midstream instead of needing to come to a full stop before changing course. In essence, they almost function like a shorthand that allow points or ideas to be reached more quickly.

Another useful thing I’ve found about parentheses is the ability for those thoughts and words to add to my word count. Having tried to limit my use of parentheses in this post, I’m finding it more difficult to reach the word count I want to. When I was writing papers in school, I found that parentheses could allow me to express my own views or add length that didn’t necessarily advance any main arguments or thoughts. In this way, parentheses in an academic setting likely are not the greatest way to write a paper.

Parentheses are also used to cite sources in the middle of the text. In college, I primarily cited sources parenthetically because I found it easier to do than creating footnotes (which likely led to me citing sources outside of any acknowledged citation system). When reading papers or books that have parenthetical references, I find them incredibly distracting from what is being said in the text. When I went to seminary, our citation method required that we use footnotes. I didn’t enjoy the move to footnotes because of the need to remember so many different details, but I did appreciate not having all of the sources in the middle of the text. This, it seems, is the one way in which I don’t like parentheses. It seems that, unfortunately, parentheses don’t get to be perfect.

It seems that the greater joy behind parentheses for me is the ability to get my own voice into the text, or rather, that I get to commentate on what I’m writing. I have found that I enjoy explaining different things, especially when I have an opinion, so I’m not terribly surprised about my love for and (extreme) usage of parentheses (can’t stop won’t stop).

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