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Hey Matt: And the sign said “Posted, no trespassing.” I could see that it was posted, why does it say that? 2 parter: Talking about parens, what about [ ]? I have seen brackets in quotes from old books like [W]here. So confused, cannot even phrase a question. What does it all mean? — jj, moved to Valley Center

Oh, Valley Center can be such a confusing place, what with the sun, the dust. You’ll calm down soon. In the meantime, I’m glad to begin to make a dent in your dithering and bring back your usual sharp-brained thinking. Posted. Well, the sign actually left out a word. “Posted Property” is the full phrase. A legal term. It’s land enclosed by a wall or fence of some sort beyond which the common man can’t go. Often seen on government property, private property, dangerous property. Depending on how long your wall or fence is and what shape it encloses, there are laws about how many signs you need and where the signs should be placed. “Posted,” I guess, is just a shorthand that’s developed to save sign-makers room for all the details of legal code sections and threats of what will happen to you if you ignore the warning.

Question number two also involves enclosed stuff. Words this time. Yes, we were talking about parentheses, and no, we never got around to talking about brackets. We didn’t figure anybody much cared about them. Once again, we overestimated you all. So, brackets, as you might guess, are close cousins of parens. At one time, parens were formed much like brackets, which accounts for their origin. Their individual distinction arose through the evolution of popular punctuation usage. Brackets came to have two uses, first to enclose a parenthetical thought within a parenthetical thought, probably to keep the reader from getting tangled up in too many parens. The second use is generally to indicate something changed or added to the text by an editor or author. Your “[W]hen” means that in the original text, the W was lowercase, the editor or author having lopped off the beginning of the original sentence in the quoted material. If the editor used a paren instead, the reader might think the punctuation was part of the quoted text. Got it? Good. The Valley Center horizon should be coming into sparkly focus any minute now.

Dear Matthew Alice: I was paying my bills when a question occurred to me that only you could answer. Why is it that envelopes that come with bills are always marked “Place Stamp Here” or some such message? Do the companies think we think they are going to pay for the mailing? — Greg, San Diego

You’re amazed that some sorehead would intentionally mail a Visa payment without a stamp? That someone would be so peeved at the finance charges he’d figure, “They can make me pay the bill, but they can’t make me pay the postage”? Why, even Matthew Alice has had that cheap revenge fantasy.

Those instructions are put on the envelopes precisely because people love sticking it to the gas company, the phone company, department stores, etc., by mailing their bills without stamps. Guess they have visions of their creditors shelling out thousands each week in postage-due payments. Well, fat chance. Ordinarily the postal service intercepts the naked envelopes and whips them back into your mailbox politely requesting that you pay up. And if you leave off your return address hoping to foil that plot, the P.O. will just set your envelope aside until they have time to open it and find your address on your check or bill stub. And then they whip it right back into your mailbox. In either case, your payment is late and, as usual, all you’ve done is shoot yourself in the foot.

Mattster: Who invented fuzzy dice? — Fonzie, El Cajon

Criminey, Fonzie! I don’t know! Maybe the same guy who sold sea monkeys on the back page of Popular Mechanics. Plain old dice date back to caveman days. So do loaded dice. It’s true. Ask any anthropologist. The minute we invented dice, we started to cheat. But for some reason it took us 40,000 years to add the fuzz. They’re definitely a ’50s phenomenon. This is also the era when Vegas made its nationwide bust-out. Anyway, fuzzy dice, an American classic, come back into fashion every 20 years or so, but the inventor remains unsung.

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