You know parentheses? (Those little crescent-shaped thingies?) Well, sometimes they drive me crazy (overuse, lack of clarity, fuzzy writing). I have nothing against parentheses in themselves. I'm just not so fond of them that I crave a steady supply. Used heedlessly, they irritate me, much like someone whispering in my ear ("We're out of milk") while I'm talking on the phone. I mean, was that really necessary? Parentheses serve a purpose. It's just not nearly so ubiquitous a purpose as many people think, judging by their writing. Some folks are as liberal in their use of parentheses as a sower with a bagful of seed, blithely scattering handfuls of little grammar-curls across the meadows. That approach may make for easy writing but not for easy reading. The result is often confusing or irrelevant and almost always annoying. With a little thought, a writer usually can find a much better solution--and should. Sometimes it seems like my main function as an editor is weed-whacking parentheses that crop up in a writer's paragraphs like quack grass on his literary lawn. Removing them--or in some cases, clarifying their content--almost always improves the lucidity and forcefulness of a sentence. That's because parentheses too often are the product not of judicious usage but of inexperienced or just plain slapdash writing. Such writing can't be improved simply by wrapping extra information inside a couple of curlicues and dropping it into a sentence. The solution isn't parentheses: it's taking the time and thought necessary to state one's ideas logically, fully, concisely, and readably. But don't take just my word for it. Mark Twain, a man not prone to velvet-coating his opinions, wrote, "A parenthesis is evidence that the man who uses it does not know how to write English or is too indolent to take the trouble to do it."* I'm not as brutal as Twain. I believe that parentheses, rightly employed, are useful and even necessary. I don't advocate their eradication, just their careful use, which in many cases will result in their much-reduced use. Often, commas will serve better. Frequent use of parentheses usually indicates other problems in a person's writing. Next time you find yourself resorting to a parenthesis, stop and consider why. Have you adopted the passive voice as your default? Blurred the link between a pronoun and its antecedent? Tried to cram too much information into a single sentence? Moreover, is your parenthetical content clear or opaque? Essential or redundant? Examine your motive for using a parenthesis. Are you doing so because it truly is your best solution, appropriate for the context--or are you merely seeking a shortcut because, for whatever reason, you don't want to take the time and thought to express yourself in the clearest way possible? If the latter is true, then, trust me, a parenthesis is no magic bullet. You'll only shoot yourself through the foot with it, and some editor like me will have to remove the slug later on and bandage you up. So take the time to say it well from the start. That doesn't mean you should utterly avoid using parentheses. Just use them sparingly, know why you're using them, and make sure your reasons for doing so are good. Your readers may never recognize and appreciate your parenthetical maturity, but I will (if I ever edit your writing). _______________ * Thanks for cluing me in on the Twain quote, Lis! Samuel Clemens had much to say about literary matters, all of it valuable and wise.