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

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 7 16:01:08 UTC 2008

Well, that's one of the reasons that the French distinguish between
"Anglais" and "Americain," I suppose. Details vary, according to one's
point of view.

Years ago, at a linguistics conference in Amsterdam when I was still a
grad student at the 'Tute, an elderly, i.e. about the same age then
that I am, now, Englishman, noticing my M.I.T. affiliation, no doubt,
asked me whether I was "familiar with the name, 'Valentine[sic]

I answered, "Why, yes. That's Paul Kiparsky's father."

The Englishman riposted, "Well, I'm sure that you'll forgive me, if I
continue to think of *Paul* Kiparsky as *Valentine* Kiparsky's *son*."


On Mon, Apr 7, 2008 at 9:18 AM, Damien Hall <halldj at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  Poster:       Damien Hall <halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
>  Subject:      Names for brackets (was: Extension of Tourette's)
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  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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