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The following sentence appears in this book review:

But this idea has been a driving force in mathematical logic and computer science since Alan Turing, A. N. Kolmogorov and Emil Post (he of the "tag" system, of which more later).

Indeed, there is a "Post tag system" which is mentioned later in the review.

Now, I understand what this sentence means just fine, and I feel certain it's grammatically correct, but the parenthetical remark seems somewhat stilted, or at any rate it employs constructions I don't think I see very often.

Can someone explain what is going on in the parenthetical remark, grammatically speaking?
Also: What are some good alternatives for expressing the same meaning?

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Borrowing a term from computing, I'd call the parenthetical remark a forward reference –  FumbleFingers Nov 28 '11 at 3:46
    
"...which is discussed later" is an equally concise alternative to this ambiguous, robotic phrase. –  David Rivers Nov 28 '11 at 10:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

In short, he of the "tag" system, of which more later is either a parenthetical apposition, or a case of true, isolated parenthesis. In the former case, you could replace the brackets with commas; in the latter, dashes.


It is parenthetical in that it stands apart from the syntax of the rest of the sentence, just as with dashes (I love Rhodes—who wouldn't?—despite the weather.). However, in this case the brackets could be replaced with commas without rendering the sentence ungrammatical; that is, it would be a bit awkward, but still correct.

But this idea has been a driving force in mathematical logic and computer science since Alan Turing, A. N. Kolmogorov and Emil Post, he of the "tag" system, of which more later.

Here it would be an apposition to Emil Post. The simplest type of apposition looks like this:

Clytaemnestra murdered her husband, King Agamemnon.

Or this:

Nero's cronies killed Agrippina, her/she who gave him life.

The reason why he (not him) is used in your sentence could be that Emil Post is the subject of the elliptical clause "since Emil Post presented his theories", or something like that; in that case, he is used to indicate that the apposition belongs to the subject.

As an alternative, one could say that the nominative he is used because this happens to be the typical case for appositions in modern writing. This goes against the rule that subjects and subject complements (and only those) should be in the nominative case in traditional style, but it wouldn't be a first. I'm not sure what to think of this position.


Lastly, it could be argued that it is not an apposition at all, but rather a case of truly isolated parenthesis, which could be rendered by dashes without change of meaning:

But this idea has been a driving force in mathematical logic and computer science since Alan Turing, A. N. Kolmogorov and Emil Post—he of the "tag" system, of which more later.

In that case, there is no syntactical connection at all between Emil Post and the he phrase, just a semantic/pragmatic one.


Of which more later is simply a relative clause that modifies the "tag" system: nothing complicated or controversial there.

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I think the writer expressed what he wanted to say very well. The parenthetical remark is simply a brief reference to notify the reader that 1) Post is involved with the "tag system" and 2) the writer will talk about it more later. It does in eight words what it would take roughly twice as many to render in the kind of detail that would please an 8th-grade English teacher..

... (who developed the so-called "tag" system, which I will discuss in detail later).

As you can see, this adds nothing but extra words. The writer got it right the first time. Of course, there are other ways to say this, but all add more words than may be suitable for a brief parenthetical remark.

This is an example, by the way, of ellipsis, a rhetorical device whereby words are deliberately left out. There are many reasons to use ellipsis, but I think it sufficient to cite a single one in the list given by Ward Farnsworth in Classical English Rhetoric (p. 157):

c. The omission of words can create a sense of brevity, energy, and elegance.

Nothing wrong with that.

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Thank you for your answer. I agree that the brevity and simplicity is very nice; I suppose it is just because I don't hear this kind of thing very often that it seems odd to me. But I meant my question to be: what is the proper grammatical terminology to describe the parenthetical remark? –  Zev Chonoles Nov 28 '11 at 2:24

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