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Old 12-20-2000, 07:33 PM
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Cloudcuckooland
Posts: 5,925
Quite often, you'll see a quote in a newspaper or magazine that reads something like:

"I think [we should go to] the park."

Once upon a time in middle school, our teachers told us that this meant that the person being quoted hadn't phrased what he said clearly and the brackets were there to help the reader out. Remove the brackets and that was what the person had really said.

One problem: Rarely, if ever, does the sentence make a lick of sense without the words in brackets. It usually sounds like a 2 year old trying to talk. So do they remove some of the speakers original words when they add the bracketed words? Or what?
Old 12-20-2000, 07:45 PM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Posts: 18,811
Yeah, the brackets can either be inserted or replace actual words. For instance, if the quote was "I think she is a weasel," you could print it as "I think [Jane Doe] is a weasel" to clarify.
"Opinions are like arms. Everybody has them, but you look like an idiot when you try to show off how strong yours are." - Miles Jupp
Old 12-20-2000, 07:45 PM
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: New York, New York
Posts: 318
Generally the brackets are used by the writer to indicate to the reader that the writer has paraphrased the speaker in order to (1) maintain syntax or grammar or (2) provide an antecedent that the reader would otherwise have to infer.

For example, if we were talking about the election and said, "I can't believe he won. I mean, he lost the popular vote, and the Supremes just handed Florida to him", you would know, having been involved in the conversation, that I was referring to GWB. Someone quoting me for the newspaper, say, can't assume that readers have that context. So the reporter will write, "Cantrip, in discussing the election, stated that he "[couldn't] {because I said "can't", which doesn't make sense in this context, but the bracketed word fits syntactically and keeps my meaning} believe [George W. Bush] won." The second bracket is there because otherwise, although readers might infer I meant Bush, they could just as easily believe it to mean Ronald Reagan.
"I happen to consiter myself Intelegent and articulate,I just hapeento have better things to waste my apitudes on than a silly post." Claudia VonL, Telemarketer
Old 12-20-2000, 07:46 PM
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between the Moon and NYC
Posts: 13,023
IIRC, bracketed words are words that are paraphrased from the original sentence. For example, if the person speaking is using expletives, or if the meaning is not entirely clear, and the publication wishes to clarify the meaning of the sentence, the writer of the article will paraphrase in brackets what the speaker meant.

I would if I could, but I can't so I won't.
Old 12-20-2000, 07:47 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 29
I'm no journalist, but my understanding is that the brackets are used when only part of a sentence is quoted, and that part would not make sense otherwise. So, if you were able to read the entire text of what has been said, there would be no need for the words in the brackets, as all they are doing is putting things back into context.
Old 12-20-2000, 07:48 PM
Join Date: Apr 2000
Posts: 18,811
Holy simulposts, Batman!
"Opinions are like arms. Everybody has them, but you look like an idiot when you try to show off how strong yours are." - Miles Jupp

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