(In Parentheses)

I overuse brackets (I think).  When I read back over something I’ve written, out they jump out from the text like a spring lawn filled with dandelions.  There are too many.  Time to do some weeding, remove a few, until I weaken and reinstate my sideway smiles… ).  Entirely unsure as to when and where I should be using them, I decide to do some digging on punctuation, only to wish I had never begun.  Turns out that (mostly) these little side-whispers I refer to are not brackets at all, they are the use of parentheses, and the two are not the same thing.  You knew that already?  Can’t say I’m surprised, a person of your education… but somewhere along the way I had forgotten the rules pertaining to the use of and difference between brackets and parentheses and I’ve been mixing them up with careless abandon like a child with a bowl of melted ice-cream and chocolate sauce–the result of which is never pretty.

Regarding brackets, here are my (everyone’s) options: <>; {}; []; ().  Yikes!  I now have dandelions, buttercups, clover and daisies with which to seed my lawn of text.  Reading on, I discover a useful distinction: ‘Brackets are the younger siblings of parentheses.’  I see.  Parentheses are usually longer, they often clarify meaning or insert supplemental information, while brackets are used mainly for clarification within quoted material.  My head is spinning, I need an example.  OK: Let’s quote a child who has said something cute but wrong, and I want you to know that I know it is cute and wrong, rather than you thinking I have made a typo. “Every weak [sic] I visit my granny.”  Ah, cute!  So that’s a bracket; a little nod, wink or correction, not the meandering side-thoughts which I had previously assumed I was corralling into ‘brackets’.  My favoured lasso, it appears, is actually the parentheses.  It separates text that, while important in adding meaning, is less significant than the text that falls outside of those punctuation marks.  You could look at it as the ‘come here ‘til I tell you’  piece of punctuation; something whispered aside, a point one could skip over, but a colourful add-on nonetheless.  You know the way a conversation veers down a side street for a moment before getting back to the subject at hand?  We all do it; it’s the spoken parentheses.  Come to think of it, aren’t the most interesting parts of a conversation often told as a throwaway, in parentheses?

I have decided the parentheses is a post-it note while the bracket is one of those tiny sticky tabs used to mark a page; the one you can only fit a word or two on.   As for the dash (as if you are not stupefied enough by this unsolicited lesson)–it is said to be more relaxed than the parenthesis.  The dash is more conversational; it’s a bit like a leek (a most under-rated vegetable) cooked slowly in butter: you can add it anywhere and you’re unlikely to go wrong.  (Does this mean the dash the ubiquitous paperclip?)  To those of you with eagle eyes, I should add a quick disclaimer: now that I [broadly] know the rules, it doesn’t mean I’m going to keep to them.

E.E. Cummings–he loved a bit of parenthesis, went to town on it.  (Nice poem too.)

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart


i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

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