Tuesday, June 6

The parenthesis: is it a wall or does it get us out of trouble?

She moved through a text like an athlete running down the track. She ran through history at the heartbeat that has already caught up with the trot. One word after another, one sentence after another… Pam, pam, pam! I was flying through the pages until, suddenly, I hit a wall. plop!

A wall without a front door. The only thing I could do was jump and get inside. I did and was surprised to find the author in there. He told me a phrase related to what I was reading and, hey, I should get out of there right away. I also didn’t see an exit gate and had to jump again to get back to the main path.

Very well. Great note. But I had broken the inertia I was carrying and had to pick up the rhythm of the main text again. I turned my head before taking a run again and discovered that those two walls were two parentheses.

I kept reading and another fence stopped me. Inside there was a prompter, who let out a phrase and, hey! Pull! Get out of here. Then another one and jump again. Inside was a note with a one-line message and an indication: Get out!

So much pause made me feel from acceleration to braking and from braking to acceleration. what a nuisance Those parentheses were just as annoying as pop-ups on web pages. I even wondered if they weren’t the paper version of “Open link in new tab”.

I did not understand why the author separated that information and was throwing it in bird shit. Suddenly, plop!: a fact as if it had fallen from the sky. So much pause took away fluidity. She lost the flow that has everything that runs well, like the chains that rappers wear around their necks, with all their links so well placed.

So many parentheses had taken me out of reading and had gotten me into an obstacle course. I thought the point . you skip it. Comma , too. Semicolon ; it’s taller and costs a little more, but in one stride you get over it. for the two points : you sneak Suspensives points you are thrown down a ramp. and the stripes although at first they stop you They act as a pole and help you move forward.

But the parentheses? () The brackets? [] The keys? {} There had to be a compelling reason to build such a wall and isolate a sentence or a paragraph from the others. The thing is serious… Due to such severe isolation they have come to accuse the parenthesis of being a prisoner.

Someone with the sensitivity of a musicologist and philosopher abhorred them. Theodor Adorno said that parentheses break the unity of a text and that using them leads to pedantry and philistinism. There it is na! He detested them to such an extent that he established them as a measure of good writing. In their Notes on literature he said that “the writer’s sensitivity to punctuation is checked in the treatment of parentheses. The prudent will be inclined to put them between hyphens and not between brackets, because the bracket completely removes the parentheses from the sentence.

In one of the first stories that Galdós wrote, he did not give parentheses a good role either. The poor sign ended up in the hands of the Inquisition, which was an old woman who could hardly stand up, and who gave life to a bonfire made “with worn question marks, T sticks and broken parentheses”. It was the fire that wanted to burn the word Liberty.

Nor do we hold parentheses in language much in esteem today. They treat the poor man so badly that the journalist and pedagogue Cris Planchuelo dedicates a story to him in her hilarious book The Incredible Case of the Undercover Apostrophe, from the publisher {Footnote}. The story begins in the Proofreading and Proofreading Department. A certain uneasiness floated there because it had been a while since they had seen a parenthesis (“a double, sinuous, pneumatic and welcoming sign”).

The superagent Leo Ibáñez, a defender of spelling and an enemy of typos, asked her assistants, and an intern named Coni replied:

—Look, in the competition between the line and the parenthesis, the line has won. Note that this is more modern and elegant.

—What I don’t understand, Coni, is (leaving aside the reasons of modernity) why people don’t use parentheses anymore if it’s so close at hand on the keyboard and you don’t have to go look for it in the menu, as happens with the stripe.

They debated for a while if the parenthesis, if the line, if the hyphen, and the superagent pointed out:

—The parentheses and the dash do not isolate the subsections to the same degree.

—Indeed: the line isolates the paragraphs less than the parenthesis, but do you think that people care about that? To those who are not as geeks as you and me peel it (I mean, they don’t care).

That’s how it is. And although some of us are fascinated by punctuation marks, although we think that they are gestures, music!, graphic art!, the DNA of emoticons!, even that signs are the goblin of language!, the most common thing is what Coni said next:

—Super Agent, I could swear that the hierarchies between parentheses and dashes have ended. Do you think that people are writing subsections within subsections? (using the parentheses in the main and the stripes in the secondary as required by the norm)? Well, no, people ignore those moves and ignore subsections and explanations: they send an audio with everything they want to say and that’s it.