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A Touch of Humor

Once when I was helping my daughter with homework, I discovered that some things are beyond description.

Think about it. How do you explain parenthesis to someone who has never seen them before? You can’t really call them brackets. Besides, my daughter didn’t know what a bracket is either.

And how does one describe parenthesis? “Those funny little lines. One goes one way and the other goes the other way.”

It’s no wonder the poor girl started crying.

Then when I drew them, we got into another gray area. “That doesn’t look right,” she said. One of them is backwards.”

“No it’s not. They’re supposed to be that way.”

“But it looks backwards.”

“Take my word for it. It’s not.”

“Okay. But what do you call that one?”

“Uh, well, you don’t call it anything. There is no singular of parenthesis. They’re a pair. Just like a pair of shoes.”

“But you call one shoe a shoe.”

She had a point. One that stopped me cold for a second. Then I shuffled her papers together and said rather breezily, “Okay. What else did your teacher say you needed to work on tonight?”


I ran screaming from the room.


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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  1. Thanks Maryann. Laughter is always good. Did you have to explain to her that sometimes there's a parenthesis (") and sometimes there's only half of one (')?

    Straight From Hel

  2. LOL. Everyone needs their daily dose of punctuation humor. You're good at this, Maryann. Pity you can't make a living with a show called "Stand-up Grammar". You'd be hot stuff at all the writing conferences.


  3. This was a fun post but oh, so true. When working with beginning writers in a critique group or a self-editing workshop, I find many writers with great ideas have not been taught basic punctuation rules. The look on a writer's face as I talk about punctuating dialogue is priceless. I've resorted to terms such as "three dots" and "long dash" and "he said/she said."


  4. Great story! I enjoyed the laugh.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  5. Great story Maryann. Now that I know an editor has difficulty explaning grammar to students I can give myself a break!

    My critique group recently had a discussion on those three dots vs long and short dashed vs hyphens. The discussion started out to be about the proper use of em dashes, but we lost half the group and had to back track. I wasn't surprised. The first time I received em dash instructions from an editor I had no idea what the words meant. I don't believe those three little dots, em dashes, or en dashed ever came up in my English classes.

    Charlotte Phillips

  6. Thanks for all the great comments. So glad that the humor works for everyone.

    I should have mentioned that I think my daughter was in second grade when this happened. Not sure exactly. I've slept since then.

    Dani, you've given me a good ide, but I'm not sure I could be so witty in person. LOL

  7. Explaining italics shouldn't be hard, Maryann. Just lean to your right and say "the letters look like this."

    In my writers' group we'd read our work aloud, and some of us would lean when we read italicized material. We thought we were hilarious. Isn't that sad?

    Bob Sanchez

  8. LOL, Bob. Actually I think it is hilarious.


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