Saturday, May 16, 2009

As I was saying

(Just between you and me)

In January 2007, I poked some fun at erstwhile radio banshee Melanie Morgan for her abuse of parentheses. She was trying to stack the deck for a call-in program that was likely to determine her fate as a talk-show host at KSFO. (That particular storm eventually died down, but in 2008 she was finally dismissed—but not missed.) In her 2007 call to arms, Morgan included the following paragraph, which I embellished with a couple of snide corrections:
Now liberal bloggers are calling for our firing. They are also pushing for implication [sic: she means “implementation”] of the Fairness Doctrine to force liberal radio programming down the public’s throat. (They tried to compete in the free market with “Air America” and that failed miserably, so now they are using these tactics to silence conservative radio voices). [sic: the period belongs inside the parentheses]
I know it's slightly unsportsmanlike conduct to pick at small usage flaws in an e-mail bulletin, but I found it difficult to be charitable toward an eliminationist extremist like Morgan, who cackled cheerfully about abusing people she didn't like. So, as befits a mean, nasty, godless liberal, I couldn't resist taking a couple of cheap shots.

A more gentlemanly individual sprang to her (partial) defense:
Anonymous: The period doesn't necessarily belong inside the parenthesis. That's a stylistic choice—different style guides offer contradictory rules.
Although my unnamed commenter didn't offer an example of a style guide that disagrees with my parenthetical preference, I've seen enough bad guides to believe that one (at least) exists. Yet I remain unmoved.

Logic, of course, is an unreliable guide to usage in as human an endeavor as written language, but it is nevertheless the slender reed on which I rely in this instance. A parenthetical remark is an aside. One should be able to delete the remark without doing violence to the main thought. In Morgan's example, deleting the parentheses and the material they contain would leave an orphaned period. It should have been enclosed in the parentheses, where it would live or die with the rest of the parenthetical remark. (And that's the truth.)

6 comments:

William said...

I agree, and I'd add that deleting the remark would be a fine idea, since it's vacuous. Air America is still on air, two years after she claimed that it "failed miserably".

The Ridger, FCD said...

Indeed. When the parenthetical is a sentence in its entirety, the period belongs inside the parentheses.

Neil' said...

Sure, as Ridger said too. But what if there's a parenthetical expression included and at the end of a sentence? Such as: I intend to attend tomorrow (assuming my calendar is clear.) I still think the period belongs inside, but are we still sure, still agreed, that it should be?

Zeno said...

Nope, I don't agree, Neil'. I'd render the sentence thus:

I intend to attend tomorrow (assuming my calendar is clear).

The period belongs to the entire statement, not just to the parenthetical remark.

unapologetic said...

So does that reasoning also apply to punctuation and quotation marks? Most current style guides insist on placing the period inside the closing quotation mark if the quote ends a sentence.

What if you have a declarative sentence ending with an interrogative quote? Or an interrogative sentence ending with a declarative quote? Fill in the blanks:

Did the defendant say, "I'm going to kill you_"_

Zeno said...

My own preference would be for

Did the defendant say, "I'm going to kill you"?