Sep 24, 2009

Contest Entry Redux

Today is National Punctuation Day, which strikes me as bizarre. Even more bizarre is that I entered Grammar Girl's National Punctuation Day Contest, which I neither won nor placed. Such is the democratic nature of the Internet that you may still read my entry below. This is the literary equivalent of wasting not even a single ingredient in the kitchen, even using the potato peelings.


If your morning cup of coffee is at war with last night’s wine, if you find yourself torn between Emily Post and Fight Club, if your id and superego have literary battles, then the parenthesis is for you.

The official pigeon hole of the parenthesis is to set off explanatory or qualifying remarks.

An example might help. Here is a snippet of my recent email to a friend. I was complaining about the lousy vocabulary of social networking. "Even the terms are crap: Blog (sounds like something I dislodge from my nose), Twitter (what old ladies do at a tea), Facebook (a hair shy of pornographic)…"

You can tell from his first three entries about the parenthesis that H. W. Fowler (a God in my grammatical world) hates the parenthetical statement. He admonishes on the appropriate length, relevance and identification of parenthetical statements. He hasn’t a kind word for it.

It is true that the parenthesis has its place, usually in short informal missives, where the mind can wander as it pleases. It is the kind of punctuation that does not belong in a novel. (I'll pay you a dollar if you find one in my first novel).

But I see something much more deviant in a parenthesis. It is the counterweight to the main line of thought. It is Mr. Hyde’s snide comment to the polite house call of Dr. Jekyll. “As I was trying to point out to my (dumbass) colleague yesterday over coffee…”

The parenthetical statement is the dose of comedy in a tragically serious line of thought. “As I was trying to console a Steve Irwin mourner (he was asking for it!)…”

It allows manic-depressives to conveniently pursue both mania and gloom in a single sentence. “Hope you enjoyed my entry (if you bothered to read it).”

The parenthesis is the Swiss Army Knife, the duct tape and the WD-40 of the multiple-minded writer.