Wednesday, November 04, 2009


In American composition classes, brackets [ ] are reserved for editorial intervention; if you interrupt yourself with an interpolation, parentheses ( ) are preferred. Dashes and commas may also signal authorial asides, of course, but they are practically equivalent except for the drama factor.

The earliest appearance in English of the word bracket was in architectural use. It was a projection that acted as a ledge. Brackets usually had a practical supporting use, but sometimes they were merely decorative.

The word seems to have come from a Latin term that meant codpiece or trousers. The suggestion is that a supporting apparatus shaped like limbs set at an angle provokes an image of legs at their juncture.

The word bracket had many uses over the centuries:

• a small shelf or set of shelves
• in shipbuilding, a support consisting of two pieces of wood or metal joined at an angle
• one of two sidepieces of a gun carriage
• a metal pipe projecting from a wall to support and supply gas lamps
• in math, enclosure marks that signal the order of operations
• the distance between a pair of shots fired – one long and one short of a target – to find the range for artillery
• a class of persons grouped according to income
• in skating, a series of turns resembling a bracket

Grand Rapids Library’s 2009 Celebration of the Book

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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