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. This is the same website that practically educates 95% of our youth on a daily basis. Kind of frightening if you ask me.

  2. Footnotes didn’t exist when Herodotus wrote his History – this is a pretty good illustration of how he got around the problem of how to include background explanations, genealogies of significant individuals, asides, etc.

  3. heh – so glad I came across this link. I use nested parentheses, brackets (and whatever the correct name of these are) [ ] all the time. Usually to define a condition within whatever I am segueing from the original sentence. Of course, this may just mean that my English skills are not so good (or lazy, of course [can't be bothered re-writing you see]). I now feel validated!

  4. I usually call the three primary types of brackets parentheses (), brackets [], and braces {}.

    Many nested parenthetical statements are simply victims of poor style. For example, all of the parentheses in the above paragraph can be omitted or replaced with other punctuation. With that being said, I think the use of self-reference and poor style in the paragraph demonstrated the concept of nested parenthetical statements better than a whole page full of perfect prose ever could have. Therefore, as I like to point out, if breaking a rule of style makes the meaning clearer, then that rule of style should be broken. _Communication_ is the first goal of language, not stylistic integrity!

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  6. Another good edit that made me laugh, from the plot summary of Farce of the Penguins:
    “they meet new characters including Marcus (Tracy Morgan), a penguin who likes to kid around and brag about his huge penis (an illogical point, since penguins do not have penises and instead have cloacas)”
    Thanks to some anonymous editor, I’ll never forget the reproductive organs of penguins.

  7. The most important lesson of Wikipedia is not that Wikipedia cannot be trusted, but that no source of information can be completely trusted, and you should really go read the linked research paper yourself.

  8. @Mik: Reading the reasearch paper yourself? But research papers are potentially unreliable sources of information, just like all the others. If you are concerned about reliability of information, you should replicate the research yourself. At least then you know if you fudged the data, threw out inconsistent results, or otherwise cheated, and you also know exactly which sources of errors compensated for, and thus which ones could still be in the data.

  9. If you liked the Brackets excerpt, check out John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” for some real stack operartions in language . . . especially “Menelaiad.”

  10. I have used complex nested parentheses in cell formulas (in Lotus 123 (and in Excel)), and find nested parentheses in prose quite natural. But IMHO numbered footnotes are easier for the reader to grok.

  11. My favourite wiki article joke (and I’m sure it must be a joke, there’s no way somebody wrote this without giggling a little) is from the App Store article:

    “The Apple App Store is an Apple app for app download on Apple’s app capable devices …”

  12. And since someone’s put “[Citation Needed]” within that passage on the actual wiki, we delve into the realm of *quaternary* parentheses…

  13. This kind of reminds me of a Heideger passage I read in college where he used the words “Being” and “being” about 50 times in three sentences.
    Loved it.

  14. Mike@3/28 got it right. The only hope for finding something potentially trustworthy comes from Wikipedia’s policy that all facts be buttressed by authoritative sources. At least the reliability of some of those sources can be judged by the reader.

    Paul@3/30 should read some of David Foster Wallace’s 3-deep nested footnotes.

  15. As an editor, I’m not sure what to say about that…It’s certainly nothing to learn from…lol, but it’s a bit funny.

  16. I notice a TYPO on the radiation chart:

    Top and center (green section) there is \Extra dose to Tokyo in weeks following Fukushima accident\ and the value is written as 40 mSv (should this value be 40 uSv ?)

  17. Just in case people are still reading these comments, I’d like to present one of my favorite uses of parentheses of all time… of course, it’s not the punctuation itself that is great, but the content… in any case, via Lolita by Nabokov:

    “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three..”

  18. Im a parenthesis lover (dont know why, but I notice that im always using then), for a while i tought that I was exaggerating with this article just showed that are really, really worst cases somewhere else

  19. Lewis Thomas wrote a wonderful wonderful essay on punctuation, available here ( and his first paragraph concerns parentheses. I thought of it when I read this post–enjoy!

    “There are no precise rules about punctuation (Fowler lays out some general advice (as best he can under the complex circumstances of English prose (he points out, for example, that we possess only four stops (the comma, the semicolon, the colon and the period (the question mark and exclamation point are not, strictly speaking, stops; they are indicators of tone (oddly enough, the Greeks employed the semicolon for their question mark (it produces a strange sensation to read a Greek sentence which is a straightforward question: Why weepest thou; (instead of Why weepest thou? (and, of course, there are parentheses (which are surely a kind of punctuation making this whole matter much more complicated by having to count up the left-handed parentheses in order to be sure of closing with the right number (but if the parentheses were left out, with nothing to work with but the stops we would have considerably more flexibility in the deploying of layers of meaning than if we tried to separate all the clauses by physical barriers (and in the latter case, while we might have more precision and exactitude for our meaning, we would lose the essential flavor of language, which is its wonderful ambiguity )))))))))))). “

  20. /’/…/…./…../ˉ\
    ……..(‘(…′…′….ˉ~ /’)

    Google in the input: = ==you can find many brand names, even more surprising is that he will sell you the unexpected o(∩_∩)o

  21. heehee that made me chuckle :) I’m big on parenthesis myself [especially when I feel the need to give a witty aside (such as now {or even now})]

  22. I was thinking about your comic in general today and how it must feel to have a comic that has become popular enough to influence the Internet culture in the way that you do. It’s good to see that you realize that “with great power comes great responsibility” as is commonly said.

  23. I just wanted to let you know, a few months ago I was playing around on Wikipidea like you suggested, where you click on the first link not in italics or brackets and eventually end in philosophy. I have found one exception: Hitler Diaries. (It gets stuck in an endless loop between East and West Germany.)

    Made me smile.

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  25. we love this ielts resources. the color show me how to get higher band score in TOEFL test. Parentheses can make TOEFL writing better.

  26. I just took a look at the wiki article, and they have edited it, but not in the way that we might expect: they did not eliminate the parenthesizing, they simply switched the place of the parentheses and the brackets. Apparently, it is grammatically correct to graduate from parentheses to brackets to braces.

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  28. Special implants that are available after carrying out these tasks is very serious power which can be charged with endless lenses — thus there is another bug – this winter. The expansion lasted 70 years and many can fiercely fight back. For a beginner cannot even think of having such a buy isk from escaping to other players.

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