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I Love (Not Just Like) Parentheses

Rusty - June 25, 2008

Some people are liberal with their “quote” marks. Others enjoy…the ellipse. I love (wait for it) parentheses. I’m always using them, so much so that when I write something (usually blogs and email) I have to go back and pare down my usage (like every OTHER sentence rather than every one) so I don’t seem so freakish. I don’t know where this affinity came from, though I’m pretty sure I often misuse them (as well as mispronounce “often” with a “t” sound).

Anyone else have an irrational bias for a certain punctuation or writing device?


  1. I tend to do anything I can to avoid arriving at the end of a sentence, so I douse almost everything in m-dashes, colons, and semi-colons.

    [Note: "parenthesis" is singular; "parentheses" is plural.]

    Comment by Edje — June 25, 2008 @ 6:03 am

  2. Italics. I have to use them, or else I feel misunderstood.

    Comment by cheryl — June 25, 2008 @ 6:25 am

  3. Of course, Edje. Thanks.

    Comment by Rusty — June 25, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  4. I, too, love parentheses (although my love for them is not irrational).

    Comment by Mark IV — June 25, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  5. I’m partial to the em dash — it’s just so beautiful — but have been known to favour the semicolon as well.

    Comment by Kim Siever — June 25, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  6. The semicolon is king; what else — besides the dash (as Kim noted) — allows you a perfectly grammatical run-on sentence?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 25, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  7. And don’t you also love the punctuation pileup (such as this one, written in my home near Sixth Ave.)?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 25, 2008 @ 8:06 am

  8. “… the punctuation pileup (such as this one, written in my home near Sixth Ave.)?” she meant to write.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 25, 2008 @ 8:07 am

  9. Rusty:

    Yep, parentheses are me. I just started writing a column for Baseline (an online IT site), and the editor asked me to ease up on the parentheses. I’m also very fond of dashes, colons, and semi-colons.

    Here’s a post that illustrates my proclivities. ..bruce..

    P.S. Ardis — love your comment #6. :-)

    Comment by bfwebster — June 25, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  10. I like them all – meaning I use them freely throughout my writing – and I’m not sure if I’m breaking any rules when I use them (are there really any rules written about the use of these elements of puncuation?) but then again I’ve never been a big fan of “rules.”

    Comment by lamonte — June 25, 2008 @ 9:24 am

  11. I’m another one who overuses em dashes. And sentence fragments.

    Comment by Wm Morris — June 25, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  12. I too have an obsession with parentheticals. My use of them borders on abuse, but I can’t stop! Except I have been working on paring them down and actually including the parentheticals as actual, separate sentences (or phrases within sentences, as appropriate).

    The only place I don’t abuse parentheses is in my technical writing (I’m a tech writer by profession). However, my personal writing (blogs, emails, comments on blogs) are littered with parentheticals.

    Comment by Tanya S. — June 25, 2008 @ 9:31 am

  13. So maybe we should start an Em-dash Anonymous support group? I’d join, lol.

    I also overuse lol these days — though I pronounce it in my head as an actual word (ala loll — it sounds sort of onomatopoeic to me, like a low chuckle) rather than as the acronym L-O-L.

    Wow, I must be annoying to read.

    Comment by RCH — June 25, 2008 @ 9:34 am

  14. On a related note, the abuse of the semicolon is my greatest punctuation pet peeve. I appreciate the beauty that is the semicolon (and it really is quite aesthetically appealing) and have no problem with it’s proper use. Unfortunately, when I’m cleaning up other people’s writing at work, semicolon abuse ranks at the top (or perhaps just near the top) of pet peeves. It’s like people completely forget that there is this amazing thing called a comma. The comma doesn’t get much love (bland and pedestrian it may be), but it’s really quite useful.

    I actually once had to re-edit a very long document where an administrative assistant (clearly having lost her mind) went through a document I’d already cleaned up and replaced every single comma with a semicolon. I almost killed her. I couldn’t just do a search-and-replace because some places were actually meant to have a semicolon. There was much ranting in my little corner of the universe on that day.

    So, semicolon abuse is a horror that I just can’t stand. Use it correctly, people! (Parentheses, on the other hand, just can’t be overused in my mind (except in technical documents, when their use must be minimal and appropriate)).

    Comment by Tanya S. — June 25, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  15. Coders I know call a single “(” a paren, pronounce “puh-REN”.


    Comment by Silus Grok — June 25, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  16. The fun, though, comes when you get to use em-dashes, en-dashes, hyphens, and the like… now that’s some power punctuating.

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 25, 2008 @ 10:01 am

  17. Back when I lived at home — many years ago now —, my dad would say upon reading something with too many commas, “You must have been scared by a comma when you were a child.” I started to avoid them as much as possible.

    I lost em dashes in 11th grade when my government teacher told me to cut them out. Other teachers such as Miss M the English teacher and academic decathlon coach I would have ignored but if Mr S told you to jump you said “How high?”

    In college someone said that anything in parentheses will be skipped by readers. So in most cases except when absolutely necessary I try to avoid parentheses.

    Lately I’ve started to leave out periods see “Mr S” above since I’ve been writing lots of summaries of medical literature and don’t you think it’s easier to write things out like “Norwood WI Kirklin JK Sanders SP”? Doesn’t it save your fingers from repetitive stress?

    So does that leave me with hyphens and question marks and quote marks? Oh I almost forgot the exclamation point! But those are so low class and the semi-colon is so highbrow should I abandon those too? You know kind of write for a middle market?

    Comment by Researcher — June 25, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  18. I love to abuse parentheses, dashes, italics and ESPECIALLY capitals. Because I have to be so prim and proper in my day job (technical writer), I enjoy being grammatically/stylistically inappropriate on blogs.

    Comment by Sue — June 25, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  19. And I like to start sentences with the word And. Also, with the word also.

    Comment by Sue — June 25, 2008 @ 2:46 pm

  20. I wanted to note (after my silly comment this morning) that the other punctuation-related thing that I enjoy is ligatures. Just love ‘em. I don’t have much need for them anymore, but back in my typesetting days, there was nothing quite like a well-designed ampersand or graceful ligature to separate the sheep from the goats.

    Comment by Researcher — June 25, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  21. I’m a copy editor who also adores parentheses, em dashes and semicolons (mainly in my personal, not professional, writing). I had an 8th-grade English teacher who told the class simply not to use semicolons. Period. As if we wouldn’t be able to comprehend the rules for using them? It still irritates me; it makes me want to sprinkle semicolons everywhere.

    Comment by Pam W. — June 25, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  22. Researcher,
    Nothing like a good “fi”!

    Comment by Rusty — June 26, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  23. I use em dashes. But I’m sure–pretty sure, at least–that you don’t use spaces.

    Comment by Kullervo — June 26, 2008 @ 6:52 am

  24. You’re right, Kullervo, that you don’t use spaces around an em dash. However, I’ve noticed in typing on blogs that if you use an em dash, it is almost indistinguishable from an en dash or hyphen unless you put spaces around it. This is particularly a problem if you use two hyphens to make an em dash. A normal word processing program can handle this. Somehow a blog editor can’t. Look at:

    when I lived at home — many years ago now —,


    when I lived at home–many years ago now–,

    I tend to casually split infinitives all over the place, but use an hyphen when I should be using an em dash? Never!

    Comment by Researcher — June 26, 2008 @ 8:49 am

  25. One of my grammatical peeves is when people use “like” instead of “such as.”

    One of my sins is that I sometimes revert back to the pre-HTML days and use _underscores_ around a word instead of HTML italic tags to save on typing.

    Bfwebster: In your sentence: I’m also very fond of dashes, colons, and semi-colons.

    What’s the rule on the comma before the “and?” My understanding is that a comma separates the items in a list, but that the conjunction “and” or “or” does not need the comma before it.

    Does anyone use the Chicago Book of Style (or other style books)?

    Comment by Bookslinger — June 26, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  26. Re: #26 (Bookslinger)

    Actually, the issue about whether to use a comma (the “serial comma”) before the conjunction at the end of a list of items remains controversial. I don’t consistently follow one practice or the other — when I stick that final comma in, it’s usually because I want a bit more psychic separation between the next-to-last and last items. Or I’m just not paying attention.

    There’s another reason I often put that final comma in: because I usually leave the ‘and’ out altogether in a list following a colon. For example:

    I’m fond of other forms of punctuation: dashes, colons, semi-colons.

    The ‘and’ in such a list seems superfluous. MS Word yammers at me every time for leaving it out, but I just ignore it and write as I choose. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — June 27, 2008 @ 9:38 am

  27. The need for semicolons in serious writing is so rare that any use (let alone abuse) stands out like a red flag. My feeling is that they should be used about as often as exclamation points, i.e. almost never.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 28, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

  28. Rusty,

    At least you don’t have Guy Noir commenting here. He’d cure you of your love of strange punctuation in a hurry.

    Comment by a random John — June 30, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

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