In this article one can find the following construct:

... To answer this question, it is ... necessary to open a parenthesis.

( And then the author goes into some details. But he does not literally use any parenthesis as I do right here. )

So my question is -- did the author invent this figure of speech, or does it exist in contemporary English ?

Upd. As FumbleFingers have mentioned below, Google Books search for "will open a parenthesis" shows the meaning "to be mentioned in parentheses" to be rather common for this expression.

The moral: there is not just Google, there are also Google Books. )

  • Here are 24 more instances of people writing/saying "I will open a parenthesis", but it's a trivial extension of meaning, so I doubt any of them were copying anyone else - they just thought it, so they wrote/said it. Voting to close as "general reference". – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '12 at 2:06
  • @FumbleFingers: I should have googled with a "will". How do I close this ? ( I do not want to delete the question, though, as I like the expression and want a reference to exist ) – ジョージ Mar 1 '12 at 5:41
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    I don't think you get a chance to "close" your own question - you just have to let others do it for you. And unless you have access to OED you'd have a job establishing online that there is/was a rare obsolete verb "to parenthese" meaning "to intersperse, as with parentheses". It cites "1635 J. Hayward tr. Biondi's Banish'd Virg. 226 A faint voyce, whose‥lamentations were often parenthesed with sighes and teares. Ibid. 228 Shee (parenthesing her words with greedy kisses) thus bespake him." – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '12 at 11:34
  • Well, I think this question is now properly closed with an answer (and the above comment as well). – ジョージ Mar 2 '12 at 3:17
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    It just means no-one can post any more answers. But the question stays here, so if anyone asks a similar one they might find this first. Anyone can still post comments, and nico can amend his answer if he wants. I think people can still upvote both Q and A, but I don't know if you get the rep points if they do. – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '12 at 3:22

The OED defines parenthesis as:

1.a An explanatory or qualifying word, clause, or sentence inserted into a passage with which it has not necessarily any grammatical connexion, and from which it is usually marked off by round or square brackets, dashes, or commas.

1659 in Burton's Diary (1828) IV. 283 You see the inconveniency of a long parenthesis; we have forgot the sense that went before. 1762 Sterne Tr. Shandy V. xvi, The phenomenon had not been worth a parenthesis.   

This is the rethorical meaning of the word parenthesis. Because you often put a parenthesis between round brackets, the term is also used to indicate the bracket symbol (). However, a parenthesis need not necessarily to be put in parentheses!

Interestingly, the OED also lists the (obsolete) meaning of digression

†1.b A passage introduced into a context with which it has no connexion; a digression. Obs.

1600 Heywood 1st Pt. Edw. IV Wks. 1874 I. 29 Away with this parenthesis of words. 1654 Gataker Disc. Apol. 4 But let this go for a Parenthesis; return we to our task. 1757 H. Walpole Lett. H. Mann 5 May (1846) III. 288, I thought you would prefer this parenthesis of politics.

So, it is clear that the expression "to open a parenthesis" is used to say: "I will now start to talk about something not completely related for a while, then come back to my previous subject".

As a side note: in Italian and French you can use aprire una parentesi or ouvrir une parenthèse (to open a parenthesis) as an idiomatic expression to indicate a digression.

  • Thank you for your time, it's a great answer! Also, the side note makes perfect sense, as the author of the cited text is quite likely to be a native Italian speaker – ジョージ Mar 1 '12 at 8:31

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