Monday, May 25, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Parentheses (the round bracket)

In comparison with its fellow interrupters, the comma and the em dash, a pair of parentheses is a rather polite punctuation. Consider the following sentences: (1) Forest Park, located in Portland, is the largest wooded park in the United States. (2) Forest Park--the largest wooded park in the United States!--is located in Portland. (3) Forest Park is the largest wooded city park in the United States (and one of my favorites in Portland). Commas slyly draw a reader in before they've had a chance to notice a break and em dashes demand attention but parentheses offer humble bits of extraneous information which the reader may include or gloss over.

In addition to presenting asides and referential material (acronyms, bibliographies, page numbers, translations), parentheses are a potentially bold stylistic tool. Scholar Duncan White dedicated an essay to the subject of parentheses in Nabokov's Lolita, observing at one point how "Parentheses elucidate the theme of imprisonment, reminding the reader of Humbert's incarcerated state."

As generally unobtrusive as a pair of parentheses may seem, it is possible to overuse them. To avoid this, use square brackets to set off information within parentheses; convert parenthetical afterthoughts made in rough drafts to more artful incorporation whenever possible.

Read the abstract to Duncan White's essay, "(I have camouflaged everything, my love)": Lolita's Pregnant Parentheses, here. View Videojug's clever video on the topic here. The Chicago Manual of Style and The Copyeditor's Handbook outline further details for using parentheses.

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