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THE WORD “ONLY” is misused—or at least used in a flabby way—every day. However, years ago my Mainer friend Steve Macdonald taught me The Only Game, a great way to fine-tune one’s understanding of this common word.
Consider the basic statement “I poked him in his eye.” Next, place the word “only” in each of the seven possible places in this sentence, and understand its true meaning in each case. Curiously, of these seven, only three have the same meaning.
If you like, plan The Only Game first, then see if you agree with the following analyses.
#1: “Only I poked him in his eye.” No one else did the poking; just me.
#2: “I only poked him in his eye.” This reminds me of a truculent kid trying to minimize his aggression: Jeez, I didn’t knife his eye.
#3: “I poked only him in his eye.” Apparently there were other people who might have been given the same treatment, but not by me.
#4: “I poked him only in his eye.” Among the many places I might have directed the poke, his eye was the unique target. Not his forehead, nor his stomach.
#5: “I poked him in only his eye.” To me, this one, #4 and #7 are identical in meaning. (A possible quibble: It’s illogical to think I might have poked him in someone else’s eye. )
#6: “I poked him in his only eye.” Evidently he’s a Cyclops.
#7: “I poked him in his eye only.” See #4 and #5.
I want only to have fun with words (not “only want”). ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012