Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

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gitgeezer
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Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Sat Dec 29, 2018 9:07 pm

I've seen it used more and more recently, and saw it again in today's news—the expression "among the only."

"And even though her family’s $700-a-month address sits across from a public school, they are among the only occupants of this desolate block."

What does that expression mean? "Only" means alone, by itself, the sole representative of its kind, so "among the only" literally means "among the one." If the users of this expression mean among a number of things, they never give that number.

Have any of you come across usages like this that make no sense? Is it a growing trend?

BrunoB
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by BrunoB » Sun Dec 30, 2018 11:58 am

It does make sense as a construct. If you look in any thesaurus you will find a number of synonyms for 'only'. This is perhaps a little archaic!

PeteJ
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by PeteJ » Sun Dec 30, 2018 12:09 pm

I'm with the you, gitgeezer. The phrase seems to make no sense. There does seem to be a growing trend in the media for making no sense but it might be just my age.

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Abd El Ghani AZZI
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by Abd El Ghani AZZI » Sun Dec 30, 2018 5:36 pm

It's the same as "We were alone in that hotel room"...

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by Ramon Amira » Sun Dec 30, 2018 6:06 pm

"Only" in this case is used in a collective sense.

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jscott

Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by jscott » Mon Dec 31, 2018 4:29 am

I think that 'among the only" in this context is equivalent to "one of the few". So there are actually others living in that area, but just a few."Among the only" is more lonely and desolate as a phrase however. Language isn't just a matter of denotation. It can convey feeling and attitudes as well. I think that the point that was being aimed at was made.

Look, "love is like a lion's tooth" doesn't make literal sense either. That's a phrase in a poem by Yeats.

gitgeezer
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 2:48 pm

BrunoB wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 11:58 am
It does make sense as a construct. If you look in any thesaurus you will find a number of synonyms for 'only'. This is perhaps a little archaic!
Those words are not offered as synonyms of "only," though some may be. "Only" is simply being listed among a large group of words used in connection with certain ideas. The introduction to Roget's International Thesaurus calls these "related terms." The Foreword to the Fourth Edition further states that "a note of caution should be uttered in every thesaurus against confusing this kind of book with a synonym book." Writers who use it in this way, it goes on to say, "will no doubt continue to use the thesaurus to write very strange English." Just the point I'm making. "Among the only" is very strange English.
Last edited by gitgeezer on Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 2:55 pm

Ramon Amira wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 6:06 pm
"Only" in this case is used in a collective sense.

Ramon
I don't think "only" can be used in a collective sense, except to make no sense at all.

gitgeezer
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:04 pm

jscott wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 4:29 am
I think that 'among the only" in this context is equivalent to "one of the few". So there are actually others living in that area, but just a few."Among the only" is more lonely and desolate as a phrase however. Language isn't just a matter of denotation. It can convey feeling and attitudes as well. I think that the point that was being aimed at was made.

Look, "love is like a lion's tooth" doesn't make literal sense either. That's a phrase in a poem by Yeats.
I agree that the writer probably meant "one of a few" or "one of the few," in which case the writer should have written it that way, instead of using the pretentious and nonsensical "among the only."

"Love is like the lion's tooth" is an effective simile, which is a different category of writing than the nonsensical usage I'm speaking of.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:30 pm

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Last edited by gitgeezer on Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 3:33 pm

I finally found a use for "among the only" that's appropriate for the subject. It's the name of a rock band—Among the Only!

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Tom Poore
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by Tom Poore » Mon Dec 31, 2018 4:16 pm

If there are ten people in the world who share a trait not found in everyone else, then they’re the only people in the world to share that trait. If you’re one of those ten people, then you’re among the only people to share that trait.

Makes perfect sense to me.

Dictionaries often say that “only” means “alone” or “solitary.” That’s not a complete definition. We also use “only” when referring to a small number of things:

“It took only four minutes to run a mile.”

“There are only three people who know where it’s hidden.”

...and even big numbers can become small compared to much bigger numbers:

“The Prime Minister won the election by only a thousand votes.”

So “among the only” makes no sense only if you arbitrarily ignore certain definitions of “only.”

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jscott

Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by jscott » Mon Dec 31, 2018 4:23 pm

Yeah, what Tom said.

I'll just add that the larger context of the story where the phrase appears doubtless makes clear what the sense is of the phrase.
Last edited by jscott on Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by pogmoor » Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:20 pm

gitgeezer wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 2:55 pm
Ramon Amira wrote:
Sun Dec 30, 2018 6:06 pm
"Only" in this case is used in a collective sense...
I don't think "only" can be used in a collective sense, except to make no sense at all.
only
adjective
5. being the single one or the relatively few of the kind
Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 10 Jul. 2015.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/only.
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by jscott » Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:32 pm

Meaning isn't created by hammering out a series of discrete words with a single sense until you reach a period. That would be impossible anyway because many--most--words have more than one sense and their meaning is determined by the context of the phrase they appear within or even larger units--paragraphs, etc. People don't play music from a score in a literal way either. When it's raining cats and dogs one carries an umbrella, no matter what Merriam Webster says.

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