Parentheses are my guilty pleasure. They’re the extra butter on the popcorn of my writing. The Tillamook cheddar on my turkey burger. The Baileys and whip cream in my coffee. (You get my drift— and you can see I enjoy my dairy products.)
Why do I have to feel so indulgent when I insert a parenthetical aside into a sentence? After drafting a piece of writing, whether it’s an email (yes, I’ve been known to scrupulously edit my emails), a blog post, or a few pages of a story, I always go back and remove the (inevitable and many) parenthetical remarks I’ve included. (I’m not going to bother to do that here, as you may have noticed by now.)
When I looked up “parenthetical” in Roget’s Thesaurus (I used a thesaurus since I didn’t have a dictionary handy—and by the way, don’t miss Michelle Feder’s excellent blog post about the indispensable thesaurus) it said “marked by or given to digression.” Harsh! But sometimes the truth hurts—and the truth is, I tend to digress while writing (as you also may have noticed by now.)
When I checked with Grammar Girl to find out how I should be using parentheses, I found more bad news. (If you don’t know about the Grammar Girl’s “Quick and Dirty Tips” website—you should! I am constantly checking it to find out how to properly punctuate since I tend to create overly complicated grammatical obstacles by adding, for example, parenthetical statements at the end of a sentence. Does the punctuation go inside or outside the parentheses? Grammar Girl knows!) She describes parentheses (rather whimsically) as “the quiet whisper of an aside.” Unfortunately, I think my usage falls well outside the realm of a whisper—my parenthetical asides feel more like frequent, unwelcome, and overly enthusiastic elbow digs to the ribs. (Grammar Girl also says that you should use parentheses “to surround something that seems a bit out of place in the sentence.” Well at least I got that part right!)
Of course, I understand why using too many parenthetical remarks while writing is considered bad form. I just have to read back over this blog post to see that too many parentheses are distracting, intrusive, confusing, and (yes, I’ll admit it) annoying.
I guess like all good indulgences (chocolate, have I mentioned chocolate?) parentheses are best in moderation. This is the point when I’d usually go back with my red pen and start to edit them all out. Oh well, I seem to have misplaced my pen! Guess I’ll just have to leave this post as-is. (Wink.)
Make me feel better and tell me the bad habits (or delicious indulgences) in your writing!