Every now and then, I stumble on a Wikipedia passage that makes me smile. I don’t usually share them, since calling attention to them almost certainly means they’ll be rewritten or deleted, but in this case I can’t resist. The following is from the Bracket article:

Parentheses may also be nested (with one set (such as this) inside another set). This is not commonly used in formal writing [though sometimes other brackets (especially parentheses) will be used for one or more inner set of parentheses (in other words, secondary {or even tertiary} phrases can be found within the main sentence)].[citation needed]

To the three anonymous editors who together wrote this paragraph, thank you for brightening my day.

131 thoughts on “Parentheses

  1. That is wonderful. One of my favorite (now re-written) articles in this old revision of “Low-rise jeans,” in particular this sentence: “Becoming aware that their underwear is no longer always hidden inside their pants, more people begin to choose their underwear in function of their pants.”

  2. My favorite still exists! It’s in the article for Lester Freamon, a character from HBO’s The Wire, who would often remind his colleagues that he had worked in the pawnshop unit “for thirteen years… and four months”.

    The author of his background section writes: “Freamon eventually spent thirteen years (and four months) in the assignment, until he had been completely forgotten by management.”

    Made me smile. :-) Link:

  3. This should not be encouraged – else the english language start looking like Lisp.

  4. @David: Parens in Lisp aren’t used to provide additional information, but to disambiguate syntax. IMO English could greatly benefit from such an addition. I agree that using them for adding additional information in-line can get messy.

  5. @JB: I agree. Though usually context is enough to disambiguate grouping to a reasonable degree, occasionally I truly wish I could use parentheses in a logic-like fashion.

    Sometimes comas, changing the order, and preposition usage can help, but it would be nice if it became common for parentheses to be used as group indicators in English. For example, “You may have an apple, or a banana and a pear.” equates to ” apple V ( banana ^ pear ) “, while “You may have a pear and an apple or banana.” is ” ( apple V banana ) ^ pear “.

    Perhaps what we need is to introduce logic lessons to English classes so people are at least aware of when they need to be clear in this way, as I see grouping be expressed fully ambiguously by people much too often.

  6. My favorite Wikipedism is when you encounter a paragraph where it’s obvious that someone has written one part, and someone else has written another part to contradict the first. Sometimes this can happen several times over, so that you end up reading this weird piece of text that is trying to explain something whilst simultaneously having an argument with itself.

  7. @JB: I’ve explained what I meant by [reposting my sentence with square brackets added] once or twice.

  8. I often find myself using parenthesis (when posting on internet forums [sometimes these forums aren't blessed with a proliferation of coders]) and using parenthesis; yet I’ve never had a problem with people understanding me. It at least feels less messy than quoting what someone said inside a quote of what someone else said:

    Raptor Jesus said, “Abreham Lincoln Said ‘Foresore and seven raptors don’t make great pets.’”

  9. A rather surreal favourite of mine… “A star is a tree with as many leaves as possible. A tree with two leaves, the fewest possible, is a path graph. If all nodes in a tree are within distance one of a central path, then the tree is a caterpillar tree. If all nodes are within distance two of a central path, then the tree is a lobster.”

  10. i like how it ends with the [citation needed] it’s like a little smirky ending.
    here’s a thing that bothers me with using parens…whenever i end a parenthetical insert with a smiley face…i want to have it logically balanced…but :-)) makes it look like i have a double chin..or maybe too many parenthesis. grr.. i guess i’m lucky if these are the things that i have time to be concerned about….
    can we now talk about ellispsis?

  11. Now to see how long that paragraph lasts…

    @mark: More annoying: putting code samples in parens. (int main();). Many chat clients will change the last ;) to a smiley.

    From the comment page on wikipedia:

    I just noticed that xkcd mentioned this article and a rather amusing paragraph here . I don’t like to be the bad guy here, but does anyone think that this should be fixed? I doubt that integrating examples directly into the content is allowed by the MoS… Maybe we could rewrite the sentence and keep the original one, except mark it as an example. ManishEarth Talk • Stalk 14:52, 8 March 2011 (UTC)

    P.S. My CAPTCHA is “{pi}OBDD kinsel”. With an actual pi symbol. And I don’t know how to pull up a symbol table in KDE. Guess I’m stuck trying \LaTeX…

  12. I sometimes get really stressed out about my parenthetical notations in casual writing. I’ve been known to nest two or three sets in IRC.

  13. Pingback: Bracket – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  14. @Tobias

    Interestingly enough, I think Randall may have just solved that problem. All we need to do is cite THIS blag post.

  15. @pgn674 one of my favorite restaurants in Aachen had something like ‘foo with french fries or rice and salad’ in the menu, and my first thought was always ‘damn, but I’d like to have foo with french fries and salad’. The people I’ve been dining with always stopped me from suggesting either adding parentheses or an appendix defining operator precedence to the restaurant owner, though.

  16. @Degraine

    Of course we can’t have a sense of humor on Wikipedia. Haven’t you been paying attention to anything the project has done the last few years? That’s the same reason we need to have large, drama-fulled discussions about things that have no business being taken seriously. I believe the most recent was over whether or not Wikipedia should have an unofficial anime-ish mascot This deletion discussion was part of a large discussion that included two other deletion debates, an incident report, a check user request, and a block. (There may have been other discussion also, that’s all the one’s I noticed about this particular mess.) And of course, it goes without saying that such discussions are very necessary to building an encyclopedia.

  17. About a month ago Wikipedia’s “Why did the chicken cross the road” article had the following in it. Why I was reading it well…. it was the usual Wikipedia black hole of clicking but I almost died when I read it.

    There are many riddles that assume a familiarity with this well-known riddle and its answer. One class of variations enlist a creature other than the chicken to cross the road, in order to refer back to the original chicken joke. For example, a turkey or duck crosses “because it was the chicken’s day off,” a dinosaur “because chickens didn’t exist yet,” and a dead baby “because I stapled it to the chicken.

  18. WOWWW.. That’s ex. really good.. Thanks from Turkey…

    now re-written thats good idea

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  20. This is entirely unrelated and I don’t know if you care, but ripoffs of your “Just Shy” tshirt are ALL OVER the internets. I know R Stevens has had to slap some bitches down, so just thought I put it out there… anywhere….

  21. what about nested quotes. John said \Michael told him that she use the word ‘congenial’ to describe their relationship.\

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  23. @Aard: While you’re at it, why don’t you assume it’s inclusive or? Even if you keep your usual operator precedence, that allows you to take everything you want, although then you’ll need to take rice as well. If that’s necessarily a bad thing.

    @reCAPTCHA: what’s xplon?

  24. Learn to satisfy, so-called he who is content is always happy.
    love life, love sports, lovers nature ,lovegoogle
    Learn to independence, can’t blindly bother other people, their own things done, so-called heaven hel those who help themselves.
    Learn to forget, cannot live in the past time, memory has gone, continue to present life.
    Learn to grow up, can’t again so capricious, so naive, so childish.

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  26. Pingback: Power of Words: Or maybe even grammar! « The Singularity

  27. do they answer the age old question?

    is it

  28. @Matthew: It is neither, in my opinion. Just put (hello) and *then* add the smiley, preferably at the end of a sentence. It works!

    (hello) :-)

  29. Now what if speaking about regex in a parenthesis. I think that might get confusing (especially if the regex is something like finding bracketed pairs [like this (\(.{1,}\)|\[[^\]]{1,}\]|\{.*\})])

  30. Did anyone else notice in the revision history that the paragraph has actually been deleted and re-added several times?

  31. My favorite is from the article on dinosaurs. I laughed for a good long while at it, but I don’t think it’d get changed, because it is exceedingly accurate.

    \While the evidence is incomplete, it is clear that, as a group, dinosaurs were large.\


  32. When I was a kid, I read the following poem in the book “An Almanac of Words at Play,” and for years I thought this was how nested parentheses worked:

    Of all the fleas that ever flew
    (And flying fleas are rather few
    ((Because for proper flying you
    (((Whether you are a flea or not)))
    Need wings and things fleas have not got)) )–
    (I make the further point that fleas
    Are thick as these parentheses
    ((An illustration (((you’ll agree)))
    Both apt and pleasing to a flea)) )–

    Now then where were we? Let me see–
    Ah, yes– We said to fly you ought
    (Whether you are a flea or not)
    To have some wings (Yes, at least two
    ((At least no less than two will do
    (((And fleas have something less than one
    ((((One less, in fact (((((or frankly, none
    ((((((Which, as once more you will agree))))))
    Limits the flying of a flea))))) )))) ))) )) ).

    And let me add that fleas that fly
    Are known as Flears. (You can see why.)
    All I have said thus far is true
    (If it’s not clear, that’s up to you.
    ((You’ll have to learn sometimes, my dear,
    That what is true may not be clear
    (((While what is clear may not be true
    ((((And you’ll be wiser when you do.)))) ))) )) ).

  33. One of my own favorites is this quotation from the Wikipedia article on the “Zodiac Killer”:

    “The Zodiac Killer’s crimes, letters, and cryptograms to police and newspapers inspired many movies, novels, television productions, and other serial killers.”

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