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I'm talking about a general case of the following situation:

*( (x) (y) (z) (w) ) lorem ipsum

where the positions for the optional elements are not contiguous.

For example, they may occupy the following positions:

(x) lorem (y) (z) ipsum (w)

but

* lorem ipsum

Is there a succinct way to indicate this is the case?

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    Not if you intend to display it on one line. Presence vs absence is one thing; position changing is a different matter and doesn't play happily with regular expressions and their ilk. – jlawler May 17 at 15:39

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