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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  • 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.