A Conversation for Punctuation - a Quick Guide


Post 1


I thought the idea that 'bracket' meant square brackets ('[]') was an American one. I've never met a British person who didn't understand 'brackets' to mean '()', and require the qualification 'square' if '[]' was meant. What's the origin of the insistence that 'brackets' must mean 'square brackets?

(I'm used to the American nomenclature - whenever I teach programmers in the US, I have to remember to swap to their terminology. But I'd not heard it suggesed before that the American version was somehow more correct than the UK one. I always thought they were just, you know, different.)


Post 2


I was taught that, in mathematics, that you had:
Brackets [ ] ,
Braces { } , and
Parentheses ( )

with brackets on the outside, surrounding braces, surrounding parentheses [if you ever needed to nest your brackets (not that anybody cares) ]


Post 3

Captain Kebab

Yes, but that's mathematics - consistent and logical. We're talking about English grammar which is not widely renowned for logic and consistency.

Read Bill Bryson's book, Mother Tongue - he explains a lot of this whilst giving you a giggle.

Exception to nesting in English

Post 4

Sea Change

I have a vague notion, that using square brackets unnested was acceptable if you are showing the reader that the contents therein are your own, and not those of the original person you are quoting.

I have seen it in the newspaper, where not the quote was printed, but in which you the reader would not understand what was being referred to without a one word emendation.

I have seen it in opinion pieces, where the bracketed comments are either sarcastic, or point out inconsistencies or dry grammatic errors on the part of the person quoted.

Exception to nesting in English

Post 5


It's also used when the text being quoted contains a pronoun that refers back to something mentioned earlier. So an exact quote might read:

"They always do that."

Here we have no idea who 'They' might be. One solution would be to quote more text so that the context becomes clear. But that might be considered to verbose, and it might also involve quoting text that is not relevant to the point at hand, so it might be better to amend the quote thus:

"[Grammatical pedants] always do that."

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