Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE BEAUTY of English is its clarity. Some languages can be ambiguous, encouraging interpretation, nuances, not to say differences of understanding, between speaker and listener. But not English, when properly spoken.

I emphasize “when properly spoken,” because often it ain’t.

And I’m not quibbling here about “ain’t,” a negational contraction that has been around since the 18th century. No, I’m quibbling about linguistic logic.

A pet example is flabby use of the word “only.” Its location in a sentence can make all the difference in clarity. Yet there’s a daily assault of logic in this.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a garbage man because they only worked on Tuesdays.”


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Did the wit mean “only worked”? Or “worked only”? I suspect the latter, in that our garbage pickup is only on Tuesdays too. “Only worked” precludes other activities on Tuesdays, but this isn’t what the speaker intends.

Other fun with “only” is placing it in the sentence “I poked him in his eye.” Think about the choices of clear meaning and then, if you like, check out my own modest contribution on this.

A second pet example (yes, we have more than one cat too) is the phrase “I thought to myself.” My point, ESP-excluded, is that there’s no one else to whom one thinks.

I suspect the phrase is an illogical analog of “talking to oneself,” which is a permissible activity. (In the old days, pre-Bluetooth headsets, moms used to warn kids never to make eye contact with people talking to themselves. This may still be good advice.)

However, the phrase “thought to myself” has given rise to a good joke. A motorist arguing with a traffic cop (never a good idea, kids) says, “I suppose that if I said you were an idiot, I’d be in big trouble, right?”

“You betcha!” said the cop.

“What about if I just thought you’re an idiot?”

“No problem,” said the cop, “Thoughts are free.”

“Okay,” said the guy, “I think you’re an idiot.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

3 comments on “ON THINKING (TO ONE’S SELF)

  1. kkollwitz
    February 23, 2016

    This reminds me of a lesson in Bible hermeneutics. Take the sentence “I never said you stole money.” Depending on which word is stressed, the meaning varies.

    • simanaitissays
      February 23, 2016

      A good one! I must mitigate my comment about English clarity.
      In turn, it reminds me of a joke phrase that Wife Dottie and I have: Look intently at the other and say, “I don’t deserve you.”

      • kkollwitz
        February 25, 2016

        Well- it’s a clarity of spoken emphasis. Of course at the margins, language deifies quantifying, which makes it so fascinating. Kind of like my wife.

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This entry was posted on February 23, 2016 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know and tagged , .
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