Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Speaking of Parentheses (We Were...Yesterday)

A longish quote from one of my favorite authors, Sarah Vowell from her book Take The Cannoli: Stories From The New World:

"Phone rang. It was Dave, a writer friend. We talked for over an hour, mainly about punctuation. He has big plans for the ellipsis. He's mad for ellipses. I tell him, yeah, I have similar affection for the parenthesis (but I always take most of my parentheses out, so as not to call undue attention to the glaring fact that I cannot think in complete sentences, that I think only in short fragments or long, run-on thought relays that the literati call stream of consciousness but I like to think of as disdain for the finality of the period). Dave is trying to decide whether he wants there to be a space before or after the ellipsis. He's unsure. Is the ellipsis powerful because of what is not said after the dot dot dot or is it a cheap excuse for not being able to verbalize? Conversely, do we parentheticals want to communicate by cramming more in, thus slapping what we're not saying in between what we are, officially, saying? Or is it because we can't decide?"

First of all, an hour-long conversation about punctuation? How the hell do I get invited to that? Because, honestly, I feel like what's missing in my life is extremely in-depth discussions of punctuation and other literary-related things.

Secondly, I, too, am a "parenthetical." (Though I never knew we had a name until I read this passage.) This is especially true in my spiral notebook journal and in long, babbling letters I used to plague friends and family with back in the days before e-mail, Facebook, and affordable long distance phone calls.

In one particular letter, which, without exaggeration, I am pretty sure was 15 or more pages long, I had parentheses within parentheses in all sorts of complicated configurations and completely lost control of the situation and accidentally closed a set too soon. I noted to Youngest Sister, the oh-so-fortunate recipient of my massive missive who was away at college at the time (probably learning to use parentheses with discretion and restraint), that I had had a "premature parenthejaculation." Even completely alone at approximately 1:45 a.m., I laughed so hard at my wit that I was wheezing a little before I finally got it together.

Here on the blog, I try mightily to restrain myself--though I all too often replace my parentheses with footnotes. Some evidence of what happens when the efforts at restraint fail can be found here. (That post also happens to illustrate pretty clearly what it's like inside my brain most of the time. Try not to be jealous.)  


  1. youngest Sister11/10/11, 2:47 PM

    I was laughed until I couldn't breathe reading them, too. I actually still have some of them ( . . .).

  2. (...LOVE IT) Heh. Not only was I under the influence of parenthesis adoration, I was under the influence of some of the most severe sleep deprivation I've ever suffered from when I wrote those buggers.

  3. So...

    What is someone who is mad for ellipses called? Is it an elliptical?


    I kinda need to know. know...a "friend". ;-)

  4. An elliptical! That's hilarious--and it's only a little depressing that it had never occurred to me before.

    Thanks for visiting...maybe send your "friend" around sometime? :)

  5. This is awesome! I suppose I'm an elliptical, then, as Just Jane points out above. :-D