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#148192 09/23/05 02:30 PM
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tsuwm Offline OP
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The word people is not to be used with words of number, in place of persons. If of "six people" five went away, how many "people" would be left? [The Elements of Style, 1918]

edit oh my; Fr. Steve won't see this...

#148193 09/23/05 02:46 PM
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The word sheep is not to be used with words of number. If of "six sheep" five went away, how many "sheep" would be left? But seriously, people are not sheep ... or are they?



Ceci n'est pas un seing.
#148194 09/23/05 02:51 PM
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tsuwm Offline OP
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see B.C. crossthreading.


#148195 09/23/05 02:55 PM
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I've been following the Language Log postings and the BC thread, too. Thanks.



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The person who posted this ,http://snipurl.com/hxb7 is by his own admission old, and is definitely a prescriptivist. I would like to hear from this board's prescriptors regarding their comrade's pov on this issue.


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Vernon:

Here's what the guy said:

"It has long been a principle of mine that a sentance (sic) contining (sic) the word 'only' and a sum of money can only be considered grammatically accurate if it is about one's salary.

"'I am only paid 70 per day' good formation
"'I only spent 3.75 on breakfast' grammatical nonsense. It must be possible to spend less than that. Or cook it youself (sic)."

The person who wrote that is, at best, a jerk. It had absolutely no place in the discussion at hand and speaks only to the size of the person's monstrous ego and minuscule intellect.

Only is one of those words that changes sentence meaning dramatically based upon its position in the sentence.

"ONLY I am paid 70 per day" says that the speaker is the only person who gets that salary as does "I ONLY am paid 70 per day".

It's when you get to "I am ONLY paid 70 per day" and "I am paid ONLY 70 per day" that you get to where the writer is coming from about the paucity of his salary. These two sentences are a mild complaint about how much money the speaker makes.

The sentence takes on a different tenor when you put the only at the end: "I am paid 70 per day ONLY" most likely means that the speaker does not earn by the hour.

The sentence takes on similarly varied meanings when you move the only around, but with some differences, viz. "I spent 3.75 on breakfast ONLY". This to me is a statement that the speaker probably spent more money for food but this amount went for breakfast and it's depending upon context more than likely a complaint about the cost of food. And that differs significantly from the sentence "I spent ONLY 3.75 on breakfast" which is most likely a mild boast that the speaker was able to save a bit of money on his morning meal.

There are similar varied shadings of the meaning of the sentence when you write:

"ONLY I spent 3.75 on breakfast"
"I ONLY spent 3.75 on breakfast"
"I spent 3.75 ONLY on breakfast"
"I spent 3.75 on ONLY breakfast".

Note that the original sentence is subject to two interpretations based upon context. It might have been meant to say "ONLY I spent 3.75 on breakfast" or "I spent ONLY 3.75 on breakfast".

I don't think this is prescriptivism rearing its head; rather I believe that it's simply a matter of the varying semantics of a sentence that is changing by the way the words are put together.

TEd



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Thanks for that, TEd. It was what I was thinking.


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a sum of money can only be considered grammatically accurate if it is about one's salary.

And I thought Mr. Grammar Person was Dave Barry.


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I think the guy's a little nutso. "Only" $X does not suggest that there is no way it could be gotten cheaper.


#148201 09/25/05 03:36 PM
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H. W. Fowler, 1926, Modern English Usage.

"only, adv.: its placing and misplacing. I read the other day of a man who 'only died a week ago', as if he could have done anything else more striking or final; what was meant by the writer was that he 'died only a week ago'. There speaks one of those friends from whom the English language may well pray to be saved, one of the modern precisians who have more zeal than discretion, & wish to restrain liberty as such, regardless of whether it is harmfully or harmlessly exercised. It is pointed out in several parts of this book that illogicalities & inaccuracies of expression tend to be eliminated as a language grows older & its users attain to a more conscious mastery of their materials. But this tendancy has its bad as well as its good effects; the pedants who try to forward it when illogicality is only apparent or the inaccuracy of no importance are turning English into an exact science or an automatic machine; if they are not quite botanizing upon their mother's grave, they are at least clapping a strait waiscoat upon their mother tongue, when wiser physicians would refuse to certify the patient.

"The design is to force us all, whenever we use the adverb only, to spend time in considering which is the precise part of the sentence strictly qualified by it, & then put it there—this whether there is any danger or none of the meaning's being false or ambiguous because only is so placed as to belong grammatically to a whole expression instead of to a part of it, or to be separated from the part it specifically qualifies by another part.

"It may at once be admitted that there is an orthodox placing for only, but it does not follow that there are not often good reasons for departing from orthodoxy. For He only died a week ago no better defence is perhaps possible than that it is the order that most people have always used & still use, & that, the risk of misunderstanding being chimerical, it is not worth while to depart from the natural. Remember that in speech there is not even the possibility of misunderstanding, because the intonation of died is entirely different if it, & not a week ago, is qualified by only; & it is fair that a reader should be supposed capable of supplying the decisive intonation where there is no temptation to go wrong about it."

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage:

"I will only add this to my defence of our present Writers—John Dryden, "Defence of the Epilogue," 1672

[...]

"He only planned to keep on going as far as each streetcar would take him—E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime, 1975

"If writers from Dryden to Doctorow have ignored the rule that only must immediately precede the word it modifies, where did the rule come from? It seems to have originated with Bishop Lowth in 1763. It was not directed by Lowth at the placement of only (his mention of only is in a footnote), but is a rule for adverbs generally:

"The Adverb, as its name imports, is generally placed close or near to the word, which it modifies or affects; andits propriety and force depend on its position."

[...]

"But why the disparity between the rule and practice? The answer undoubtedly lies in the rule's foundation: it is based on the application of logical thinking to written English. The "misplacing" of only is caused by the operation of idiom in spoken English. Lowth's original objection to "I only spake three words" depends on his interpeting only to apply ambiguously to either I or to spake, an interpretation that would not be possible if the words were spoken. Prose was not written laboriously in the 18th century; careful and painstaking precision was, in the main, reserved for poetry. Thus, 18th-century prose was undoubtedly closer to spoken English thanit appears from this distance. We know that Dr Johnson, who habitually put such things off until the last minute, dashed off many of his prose works and never revised them. We should not be surprised, therefore, that many instances of "misplaced" only can be found inhis prose works.

"A rule based on logic that is applied to written English and does not take into account the natural idiom of speech will create thousands of "violations" as soon as it is formulated. This plainly has been the case with the rule for placing only."



Ceci n'est pas un seing.
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