The Disruptive Parenthesis

This is not a Par­ent The­sis on gram­mar about how kids should write; it is just a con­tin­u­a­tion of my mus­ings. Noticed the semi­colon?

When you write, you assume there is a read­er (unless you are writ­ing for your­self), and the paren­the­sis (when and if used) is where you ask the read­er to hold your cur­rent idea in the mind, while you dis­tract for a bit, seek atten­tion even to the dis­trac­tion, then implore the read­er to fol­low in your ear­li­er, orig­i­nal flow.

The above sen­tence rewrit­ten:

Unless you are writ­ing for your­self, you assume there is a read­er. When you use a paren­the­sis, you are ask­ing the read­er to hold your cur­rent idea in the mind, while you dis­tract for a bit, seek atten­tion even to the dis­trac­tion, then implore the read­er to fol­low in your ear­li­er, orig­i­nal flow.

Which reads bet­ter?

When you watch sports on TV, and watch a replay in slow motion to enjoy a spe­cial shot, it is a break from the live flow. It does ask you to “hold” your live TV watch­ing, replays what you’ve already seen, and resumes to live action. It is like reread­ing the pre­vi­ous sen­tence more slow­ly. It isn’t a paren­the­sis how­ev­er, because it doesn’t dis­tract. A paren­the­sis dis­tracts by def­i­n­i­tion.

Your read­er is on a flow, raft­ing along with the cur­rent of your riv­er. When you use paren­the­sis (if you do) the reader’s raft hits a rock. See?

Paren­the­sis are nec­es­sar­i­ly branch­es of a thought process; trib­u­taries of your riv­er that lead nowhere. A free­way exit you force upon your read­er, but one that sim­ply loops back to the free­way, slow­ing the read­er unnec­es­sar­i­ly. If one’s thought process has a def­i­nite des­ti­na­tion, then one need not waste one­self in trib­u­taries of paren­the­ses. One can flow straight­for­ward, car­ry­ing read­ers in an unin­ter­rupt­ed flow, right up to the des­ti­na­tion (unless you use paren­the­sis).

The paren­the­sis dis­rupts the flow; it is very dis­rup­tive by nature.

In my 40s, when I look back at every­thing I’ve writ­ten in my life so far, it takes me quite a while to dis­cov­er an instance when I used paren­the­sis. It is my least uti­lized writ­ing device.

But for­get writ­ing. When I need to use paren­the­sis in my think­ing, I take a step back. Because, when­ev­er one feels the need of the paren­the­sis, one is branch­ing out con­cep­tu­al­ly. A care­ful rethink­ing yields the insight need­ed to inte­grate the trib­u­tary into the main riv­er, after which one is ready to express. Or write. With­out paren­the­sis.

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  • Oleg


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    (sor­ry for my poor Eng­lish, but my native lan­guage is Pol­ish)

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    Greet­ings from Poland!


  • Bri­jwhiz

    In the con­text of a well writ­ten piece of prose I agree with your point of view. How­ev­er I think there is an alter­nate con­text where it might be nat­ur­al to use a paren­the­sis.

    At times writ­ing is a direct sub­sti­tute for talk­ing. When one is writ­ing in this con­text thoughts do flow more chaot­i­cal­ly. It is what one could con­sid­er as a rough draft, or a first draft. Nor­mal­ly the lat­er drafts will result in same kind of edit­ing that you pro­pose in the final para­graph. How­ev­er in many sit­u­a­tions in the present day this ear­ly draft is the final writ­ten piece, for eg: a short blog post, a social media post, mail etc. My opin­ion is that in such sit­u­a­tions the paren­the­sis can be for­giv­en, with­in lim­its.

    I did find myself employ­ing a very awk­ward use of paren­the­sis while writ­ing an offi­cial mail the oth­er day. Luck­i­ly I could see how messy it was and man­aged to rewrite the mail.

    [aside: it is nerve wrack­ing to write a com­ment to a post about gram­mar.]

    • I also com­plete­ly agree with you. I think these rumi­na­tions of mine about the writ­ten word are exclu­sive­ly about prose that is care­ful­ly con­struct­ed, not hasti­ly scrib­bled. The lat­ter does not deserve any such care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed thoughts.

      You are the only per­son to com­ment on this post, though a few seem to have liked it. I am utter­ly grate­ful, and thank you very much for read­ing and shar­ing your thoughts.