(2003 to 2005)

Nesting Parenthesis

Sun Jan 18 21:06:00 UTC+1100 2004


When I'm writing things, particularly informal things, I have always been tempted to nest parenthesis. I have always avoided doing so however, until now. Thanks to someones blog entry that I read recently (I forget whose (I think it was an MS blogger)) I am now preparing to drop my fear of using this literary construct in informal communications. When speaking informally, your main point can easily be lost if you go on a great tangent, so often you don't offer supplementary points (that lend weight or offer context to statements that you make). If you needed to do this in formal communication you would raise and discuss the entire point in its own subject, chapter or paragraph as appropriate (and then maybe offer a parenthesized statement that referenced the chapter, paragraph, etc. (e.g. see last paragraph, or as mentioned above, etc.)). Because of the synchronous (or perhaps 'serial' is a better word) nature of communication, this can be a difficult thing to do, and even if not difficult certainly time consuming.

So now, if I have a brief comment, on a brief comment, on a brief comment that is an aside, that is an aside, that is an aside, I am not going to fear using the nested brackets construct. Regardless of how this might be considered by the rest of the literary community. The problem with not using nested brackets is that tracking the subject in long sentences can be difficult (and is not so difficult with parenthesized statements given that their location tends to indicate the subject). As the person who has shown me the light said, “it is how I think”, and it is how I think too, so from now on, I'm not going to spend time trying to reword informal communications to come in-line with literary expectations, when nested points can (in my view (and at least some other peoples)) serve my purposes equally well.

I have always been a fan of bracketed statements, but have always been afraid of nesting them (even though on many occasions I have found myself doing just that (and then be frustrated that I had to rewrite my material (which I would))).

The trick to reading such material should be that basically if you remove the statements in parens the sentence reads equally well, but you can gain extra insight to the context of the sentence by having regard to the content of the parens. There is no need to omit additional context to a statement in parens just because it requires use of nested parens. I know that initially this might lead to confusion, and might cause the author to try a little harder to make sense (given that a sentence needs to make sense on it's own without contextual information (or aside statements) inside the parenthesis) on its own.

Thank you to the person who (although I have failed to properly identify them (when I find out, I'll add a comment to this post)) who has opened my eyes to the fact that this is an acceptable means of informal communication!

I'm so excited, it's like having a whole new expressive language! It's even more capable of being expressive in print than in verbal form, given that the parens can be properly opened and closed in print, but not in verbal communication (which may be why it has not been a common construct to date (but is not something that I see as being a problem that warrants rejection of such a construct)).

I'm not sure what Winston Smith (main character from 1984) concluded about the location of punctuation at the end of close brackets, but I've never cared too much for the idea of Newspeak anyway. I'll use (or not use) punctuation as I see fit at the time (with less regard for correctness than for perceived readability). If my parenthesized statement requires a smiley emoticon such as “:)“ then I'll close the bracket and make the smiley with the same glyph (like this :), for any smiley that doesn't end with an ')' I'll create the smiley and then close the paren (like this :/).

My goal will be to make a sentence make perfect sense when the parenthesized part is remove from the sentence. I have nested thinking, why can't I have nested communication?!

My only other thought on this topic is that perhaps to aid in proper closing of nested parens, various glyphs should be used, (for example I might make a level one aside using ( ) {but make a level two aside using { } [and make a level three aside using [ ] characters] characters } characters ) but it seems that would needlessly limit me to 3 levels of nesting (unless I allowed for the nesting to iterate at the forth level (which might be a valid thing to do)). Perhaps use of such language constructs is best left to computer programmers (who are probably pretty used to the idea of nested expressions (or named sub-expressions)) until some formal rules for the construct can be defined and released by a standards body! If you give me a standard I'll try to conform to it (after all standards compliance is a _good thing_) but in the face of no standards I'll just battle on in my own non-standard way (I reject the notion that iterative nesting is a bad idea).


Copyright © 2003-2005 John Elliot