Quiz Bowl: Mathematical Composition

Have you ever seen that T-shirt? The one that reads, “I’m an English major; you do the math.” I have to confess that was my philosophy when I was first hired as a copy editor. Even today, if I didn’t have a calculator, a copy of Mathematics Into Type, and a bottle of ibuprofen, I wouldn’t even attempt to edit equations. So, to ease the furrowed brows of all you English-major copy editors who are forced to face the math, this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz is on mathematical composition. But let’s ease into this. Try to example below first and then attempt the full quiz at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com.

Which of the following equations correctly uses brackets, parentheses, and braces?

{4 + (−1[2 −1])}2
[4 + {−1(2 −1)}]2
(4 + [−1{2 −1}])2
{4 + [−1(2 −1)]}2

And the answer is (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

{4 + [−1(2 −1)]}2

Parentheses should be used to set off simple expressions. If additional fences are needed for clarity, parenthetical expressions should be set off in brackets, and bracketed expressions should be set off with braces. Note that parentheses are thus always the innermost fences. All fences should be present in matched pairs.

Well, did you survive? If so, you can now turn in those English major T-shirts for ones that read, “I’m a copy editor; I’ll do the math.”—Laura King, MA, ELS