Names for brackets (was: Extension of Tourette's)

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Apr 7 13:18:10 UTC 2008

Wilson said:

> As far back as the early 'Seventies, I heard (post)graduate students
> refer to braces as "curly brackets." At that time, I feared for the
> future of the English language. A great weight has been lifted from my
> shoulders.

Sorry, Wilson, if it causes you to start losing sleep again after a mere night
of respite, but your e-mail was the first indication to me that this wasn't a
straightforward across-the-pond lexical difference!  Of course, I should know
by now that things are never as straightforward as they seem in language.
Anyway, as I say, up to now I'd thought that the fact that I referred to all
kinds of brackets differently to all Americans whom I'd heard referring to them
meant that it was just a thing between the US and the UK.  My system, which I
maintain stoutly, is:

()   me / UK: 'brackets';         US: 'parentheses'
[]   me / UK: 'square brackets';  US: 'brackets'
{}   me / UK: 'curly brackets';   US: 'braces'

To unify the set, I also most often call <> 'angle brackets', and I have even
been known to call // 'slash brackets' (when these two last enclose stretches
of characters, of course).  But, to be fair, I don't know whether these
represent general UK usage, simply me, or US and UK usage.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

The American Dialect Society -

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