Derivation of "parenthesis/parentheses"


Senior Member
Scotland, English
For a long time I imagined that "parenthesis" was merely an abstract concept. To me, the word seemed to imply that phrase contained in brackets is "set alongside" the main proposition, and I didn't realise that "in parentheses" meant literally "contained in brackets" or that a parenthesis could actually be a bracket.

This still feels slightly odd to me, although I know that the usage is universal. I wondered if anyone knew how "a parenthesis" came to mean "a bracket" and whether there was ever a time when "in parenthesis" meant something like "by the way" and brackets were simply the device used to demonstrate that the phrase was meant paranthetically.

I hope I've explained this clearly!
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Parenthesis in the Classical languages is the rhetorical device of inserting an aside ("beside + in + putting" in Greek), or such an aside. That's the earliest meaning in English too (1548, thank you OED), but the meaning as a piece of punctuation, the round brackets, follows swiftly after (1582). My feeling is that these days the rhetorical meaning is uncommon: most people would understand it just as the punctuation mark.


    Senior Member
    English - American
    A parenthetical remark or parenthesis (a rhetorical device) may be placed within parentheses (properly called "round or curved brackets"). It may also be placed within commas (","), square brackets ("[", "]") or dashes ("--"). (I have indicated the dash with a double hyphen ("-").) George, his doctor, advised drinking liquids and getting plenty of rest. Parentheses may be entire sentences, and they may be nested.

    Paraphrased from Wikipedia. The article suggests that curved brackets have come to be called "parentheses" because enclosing parenthetical remarks is their primary use in text.

    I differ from standard practice in that I place punctuation associated with quotation marks and curved brackets according to where I think it logically fits, rather than where the rules say it should be placed.
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