Column: Parenthetical thoughts on tots


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I need a Roomba. OK, maybe “need” is a strong word, but I need a Roomba. I just crunched the numbers, and getting a Roomba to robotically clean my floors would make my life approximately 4.5 percent better. Feel free to disagree with me, but Rosie (I just named my Roomba Rosie) will increase my quality of life. If anyone is wondering what to buy me for Christmas this year, now you know.

Feel free to disagree with me on this as well: Parentheses make writing stronger. It’s OK if you don’t agree with my stance because — after all — we all have our faults. Let’s examine some rules on using parentheses accurately.

Parentheses block off information that either clarify your writing or are used as an aside. To use parentheses to clarify the contents of your sentence, you could write: Americans consume 70 million pounds of tater tots per year (or the equivalent of five Eiffel Towers). Here’s an example of how to use parentheses as an aside: Tater tots (or, as I like to call them, potato toddlers) are the best food in the world.

If your parenthetical clause ends your sentence, insert the period after your parentheses (not before). In fact, I just illustrated the point. To take things to the next level (like dipping your tots in sriracha ketchup), let’s discuss punctuation inside your parentheses. If the contents of your parenthetical clause form a complete sentence, add punctuation! The brand name Tater Tots is trademarked by Ore-Ida (they were “invented” in 1953 by Ore-Ida co-founders F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg.).

That being said, you can certainly overuse parentheses in your writing. This would be like running your Roomba all day, every day; instead of enhancing your life, it would just get in the way. If my Roomba (Rosie) sucked up the tater tots I left on the floor (I promise I was going to eat them later.), I’d have to sternly (in binary language, of course) reprimand her. This over-utilization of parentheses gets in the way of an already interesting sentence. And — just like your relationship with your robot vacuum — never let parentheses (or tater tots) get in the way of a good thing.