Here's a quote from Wikipedia:

the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW, 273.16 K and 0.01 °C)

Now, "VSMOW" refers to "Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water", while "273.16 K and 0.01 °C" refers to "the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water". To me, the writing here seems to be in error: one shouldn't combine parentheses like that if they refer to two different things. Either use

the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW) (273.16 K and 0.01 °C)

or (preferably) recast the sentence. But maybe I'm wrong: maybe standard practice is, or usage guides suggest, that such 'sylleptic' (if you will) parenthetical explanations are fine to use. Does anyone know?

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    It's clear to me (at least as presented here). Think of it like a reference to a passage in a book, you give the book's name then the coordinates within the book. – Mitch Oct 11 '11 at 20:14

The Chicago Manual of Style is mute on the subject of consecutive parentheses, but, I note, doesn't use them in any of its examples. (EDIT: I found their reference regarding back to back parentheses, and expanded my answer.)

To apply their guidelines to your sentence, I would use the parentheses for the gloss of VSMOW, and use em dashes to set off the triple point values:

the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW) — 273.16 K and 0.01 °C — ...

The Chicago Manual also notes:

Parentheses may appear back to back (with a space in between) if they enclose entirely unrelated material; sometimes, however, such material can be enclosed in a single set of parentheses, usually separated by a semicolon.

By this dictum, the phrase becomes:

the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW; 273.16 K and 0.01 °C)

If VSMOW and the temperatures were entirely unrelated material, the Chicago Manual would give your sylleptic parentheses their blessing; by my reading, however, they are not.

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  • "To apply their guidelines to your sentence, I would": why: do they recommend against one pair of parentheses containing explanations for two different things (what I'm calling sylleptic parentheses)? – msh210 Oct 11 '11 at 21:01
  • I expanded my answer to address your question; you can interpret their guideline regarding "entirely unrelated material" to confer their blessing upon your sylleptic (nice word, BTW) parentheses. – Gnawme Oct 11 '11 at 21:59
  • +1, thanks. I meant the single pair as the sylleptic parentheses, incidentally. – msh210 Oct 12 '11 at 0:27

I would prefer to see:

'One effect of defining the Celsius scale at the triple point (273.16 K and 0.01 °C) of VSMOW (Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water) . . .'

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    ie. if you can't decide it's best to avoid the problem! – mgb Oct 11 '11 at 19:49
  • Barrie: because of the concern I mention? – msh210 Oct 11 '11 at 19:58
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    The problem that I have with that is that it makes it look like there is only one triple point value, just like there is only one value of pi or e; when in fact the triple point value specifically for VSMOW is the value being given. – Hellion Oct 11 '11 at 20:15
  • Hellion, so you also wouldn't like "He hated the name (Anthony) he had been christened with"? It makes it seem like there's only one name when in fact the name specifically that he'd been christened with is the name being given? – msh210 Oct 11 '11 at 20:31
  • @Hellion, sorry, forgot to @-ping you. – msh210 Oct 11 '11 at 20:59

I think it should be "the triple point of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (VSMOW (273.16K/ 0.01C))". But I also think there is a point beyond which precision becomes pedantry. [I can't believe I just typed that over my own name.]

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