February 26, 2006

Parenthetically speaking

One is an ardent advocate of increasing the ambit of bracket-usage. One illustrates the advantages offered by this age-old precedence-clarification device.

Remember the Mary Poppins joke that goes

Bert : I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.
Uncle Albert : What’s the name of his other leg?

A brief examination of the joke reveals the ambiguity that is being exploited here. We do not know if Bert is referring to a man with a wooden leg or to a wooden leg named Smith. This could probably be expressed succinctly in an axiom of the “subordinate clauses may not be interrupted by nonessential appositives” kind, but one slept through grammar classes at school. And through most other classes too, but that is irrelevant here.

Folks would point out that changing “man with a wooden leg” to “wooden-legged man” avoids the confusion. And they would be subjected to a withering look from the One*, because that sort of thing just wouldn’t work if you were talking about a chap with, say, a polka-dot bandanna.

But observe what happens when we use the new, lunula-enhanced version of the language:

Bert : I know a (man with a wooden leg) named Smith.
Uncle Albert : Er .. okay.

See? Problem solved. And it’s extensible too ..

Bert : I know a (man who wears a polka-dot bandanna and a cool Emraan Hashmi-style bomber jacket) named Smith.
Uncle Albert : Umm .. okay.

One agrees this might be a little inconvenient during a conversation (I know a open bracket man with a wooden leg close bracket …) but the speaker could make air-brackets with his hands, much like the air-quotes that seem to be rather popular these days amongst the hep set. And look how scientific it is. No misunderstandings. Much time saved, much money saved.

It seems one has come up with a patently patentable idea and destroyed a perfectly good joke. It’s nice to be productive for a change.

* Which is almost as alarming as one’s normal expression, one assures you.


Anonymous said...

[off topic]

Eww- who thinks Emraan Hashmi can pull off anything *makes waves in air denoting quotes like the hep crowd* cool???

[off topic end]

Anjali said...

Is this a devious scheme of One's, to further befuddle already befuddled minds? Or a simple accident?

Why does the bracket open before 'man' and not before 'with'?

Casablanca said...

Ummm... I had the same question (about bracket opening before man instead of with), but Anjali seems to have already asked that, so I'll wait for The One to reply to her :)

Also, One seems to have read the Wren & Martin in school for sure. Am I right?

And the Hashmi guy... eeeeeewwwww!

One in a Billion said...

Dee: [off topic] Well, but the jacket was kinda nifty. [off topic end]

Anjali: No, no. The bracket opens before 'man' because 'man with a wooden leg' is a single concept and should be read as a unit. Like maths. See?

Casa: Wren & Martin? No, never. One would dearly love to understand what a nonessential appositive is, at some point in life.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Iknow a named Smith. Sorry one. It does not work. I know a man named Smith.

I was told my famous English professor that you must be able to have a complete sentence when you take out the brackets.

Dang rules...

Anonymous said...

[off topic]

Aaah jacket is it. Yes certainly. Him though- ewwwwww (wrinkles nose)

[off topic end]

[off topic #2]

Dee is distressed with the # of movies Hashmi is coming in as her infrequent doses of Zeetv [and sometimes Sony] are VERY heavy in Hashmi. Whatever happened to the K-serials?????? *sigh* I never thought I'd prefer them over him.

[off topic #2 end]

Anjali said...

Aha. Light dawns. I'm afraid, though, that mathematical logic is out of the grasp of ordinary mortals who barely manage to hold on to grammatical logic.

One's idea, brilliant as it is, may be too evolved a concept for our times.

the Monk said...

ah, yes, I was about to ask the same question as Anjali...but the reference to Maths has cleared all doubts....I would like to commend the One on his foresight...

Casablanca said...

I wish to inform The One that the mathematical rule doesnt quite make sense, given the weird nature of the english language. Hence, Cynthia's point should be well-received ;)

*goes back to sit on high pedestal of know-it-all-from-Wren-&-Martin*

One in a Billion said...

Cynthia: And quite right the good professor was, too. But those were old-fashioned brackets - our brackets have no such requirement, see.

One is all for rules, as long as they don't get in the way.

Dee: [off topic #2] If those are the only two options available these days, one is thankful for not having a television set at home. [off topic #2 end]

Anjali: Story of one's life, that is. Story of one's life.

Monk: Aha. One was certain you would appreciate the idea.

Casa: See, whenever someone has a good idea he'll always face resistance. That is to be expected. But one shall stand firm, yes, one shall Stick to One's Convictions.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Umm. English is a pliable language... but it won't do that. LOL (trying to make air brackets while standing on head)

Nessa said...

Hehehe :)

*the anonymous* loved this post, and whilst reading it, made a mental note to comment on the One's destruction of a perfectly good joke, but the One is (apparently :) wise enough without any help from *the anonymous*

*the anonymous* too is an ardent advocate of increasing the ambit of bracket-usage, and is also in favour of supplementing the same with harmless smileys (for added effect :)

*the anonymous*, herself, has been working on a post about Eat, shoots and leaves for a while now. Any tips from the One?

Jasmine said...

AHA! So studying maths in college does have some uses after all! Because I got the reason for the wierd position of the brackets at once! I now know the workings of the One's mind and can conquer the world! Or not.

One in a Billion said...

Cynthia: Well, you wouldn’t believe the things we make it do sometimes.

Nessa: One thanks *the anonymous* for her kind remarks. As for Eats, shoots and leaves, would *the anonymous* be referring to this sort of thing?

Jasmine: If only that were so. One understands the workings of one’s mind perfectly, and one doesn’t even have a proper cubicle at the office.

LAK said...

The brackets are to make things clearer, right? So "man" should be outside the brackets.Don't fob us off with the maths bogey! Similar stuff:
A comb for babies with celluloid teeth.
A class was asked to punctuate a sentence. The boys all wrote:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
The girls wrote:
Woman: Without her, man is nothing!

Nessa said...

It is something on punctuation, yes.. *the anonymous* will let the One know when it's complete :)

One in a Billion said...

LAK: Bogey? One comes up with a revolutionary idea, and you call it a bogey?!! The brackets can be applied to every one of those examples, too. So there.

Nessa: One looks forward to it. *the anonymous* might demand that folks look up the difference between it's and its (and between besides and beside, even if that's not actually punctuation).

erebus said...

correction... it should really be I know a man (with a wooden leg) named smith. Brackets aren't really punctuation; they are there to put in extra information.

The correct way of writing the sentence would be

I know a man, with a wooden leg, named smith.

One in a Billion said...

Erebus: Okay, okay. Nobody seems to agree with one. Gah!