Why I Love Parenthetical Asides


If you’ve read Now I Know for, oh, a few months at least, you probably notice that my grammar and usage isn’t quite at the textbook level taught in high school English classes. I use a lot of commas — more than I should, for sure! — and toss m-dashes (double dashes, really, because they’re easier to type) and even random exclamation marks into the middle of sentences a lot. And, I also like to throw random asides into parentheses, like I did above. 

In my head, I hear those as whispers. Imagine Now I Know as a podcast, and this is the script; the stuff in parenthesis would be where I move away from the mic slightly to show that this is interesting, sure, but not necessarily important to the main story. Here’s an example from Wednesday’s email:

As Time magazine reported at the time, a handful of Muslim priests believed that the start of the drought coincided with the introduction of the yo-yo into Syrian society, or at least, with the newfound popularity of the toy in Syrian communities. (It’s not exactly clear when the yo-yo first came to Syria, but according to the CBC, there’s evidence that the Greeks used them as early as 500 BCE, so they probably weren’t brand new to Syria at the time.)

The truth is that I didn’t need that aside at all. The first sentence of the half-paragraph above is true, at least in principle. I don’t know exactly when the yo-yo came to Syria, but I’m confident that before the drought in question, it wasn’t very popular. But in the course of my research, I found the cited evidence that there were yo-yos dating back nearly 2,500 years. I want to share all of the fun facts I learn, even if they’re not really necessary to tell the story, and I also find it important to aim for completeness wherever possible. 

So: many asides are there due to my commitment to accuracy. (Some are there because I like to tell jokes; they fit my dry sense of humor. I leave it to you to decide which category this one falls into. Perhaps both?) 

The Now I Know Week In Review

Monday:The Different Coin: Read Friday’s email, The Two Coins, if you haven’t already; then read this one. It’s a puzzle, not trivia. You’ll see.

TuesdayHow 1930s Syria “Solved” Its Drought Problem: Speaking of yo-yos, I am 99% sure I don’t have one in my house. I really wanted to learn how to use one well when I was a teenager, but I never could get the hang of it.

WednesdayOn Tape From LA, It’s Saturday Night!: Surprisingly, looking through my archives, I’ve rarely written about Saturday Night Live (except in passing). 

Thursday: The People Who Live in Floating Reeds: This is a re-run from 2012, which was a long time ago — much longer than I usually go back for re-runs. I really like Financial Times quote in the penultimate paragraph.

Also, as reader Ken L. pointed out, the images in the “From the Archives” selection on that article weren’t displaying; I fixed the problem  in case you want to give it another look. 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The Big Uneasy: When SNL Went to Mardi Gras” (Vulture, 11 minutes, April 2019). The subhead: “In 1977, Lorne Michaels took his show to New Orleans. Things didn’t exactly go as planned.” Thanks to reader Michael S. for the suggestion!

2) “Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known” (New York Times, 16 minutes, September 2023). That should be a gift link — even if you’re not a subscriber, you should be able to get past the paywall by clicking on the link I provided. The story sheds some light on some scary moments and has fantastic graphics, but don’t get too scared of flying; as the author notes in a correction at the bottom, “While there was a fatal accident involving a PenAir flight in Alaska in 2019, there has not been a fatal crash involving a major U.S. carrier since 2009.”

3) “The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge” (Tyler Vigen, 44 minutes including the very long addendum, August/September 2023). The author of this shares my love of completeness and curiosity, it seems, because this is a VERY long article about the history of a footbridge in Minnesota. There’s really nothing special about the bridge, either, except for the fact that it doesn’t serve an obvious purpose. The author even admits, midway through, that there’s really no reason to explore the history of the bridge except out of a stubborn need to know the history. I love it. But don’t take my word for it. Two different readers — Matthew J. and Tracy S. — both shared this, independently of one another (as far as I know). So it must be good! 

Have a great weekend!