Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

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

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 5:44 pm

I concede that "only" can be used in a collective sense when it is associated with a number or an indication of scarcity: "there are only four aces in a deck of cards;" "there are only a few apples in the cart." But in the quote I was complaining of, there was neither:

"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."

It is the use of the expression without any indication of quantity that I find nonsensical. As I said in my original post, "If the users of this expression mean among a number of things, they never give that number."

If the usage had been "they are among the only four occupants of this desolate block" I would have had no objection.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by jscott » Mon Dec 31, 2018 6:25 pm

"among the only occupants" implies an unspecified number of other occupants.The author probably didn't have an exact count. So the phrase leaves that number ambiguous. Readers will grasp that it's not many. think of this as an impressionist painting.

Of course you have a point gitgeezer.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by Ramon Amira » Mon Dec 31, 2018 7:05 pm

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by guitarrista » Mon Dec 31, 2018 7:21 pm

jscott wrote:
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. [...] When it's raining cats and dogs one carries an umbrella, no matter what Merriam Webster says.
Also, dictionaries describe language use. They are also frequently not capturing all different meanings in use. So yeah, if there is a clear example of different usage, like Tom Poore laid out, it is not a point against it if print/web dictionaries are missing it - it is the dictionaries' fault.
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gitgeezer
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 8:54 pm

I'm not speaking of whether we understand what the writer intends to convey but whether the writer has conveyed that meaning well. The reader shouldn't have to stumble over an awkward choice of words to find the meaning. Writing should be logical, clear, concise, and effective, which "they are among the only occupants" is not.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by guitarrista » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:10 pm

Hey I am not complaining. This was useful to bring up, and I thank you for it. I think your own understanding also evolved a bit from the initial reaction you had; nothing wrong with that!
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:34 pm

I just read my first post again and still feel that way. I don't think my "understanding" has "evolved." I do see that I may have given the impression that I didn't know what the writer meant. I did know what the writer was trying to say but thought the choice of words rendered the attempt to say it nonsensical.

In her book, "What Happened," Hilary Clinton wrote: “When my friend and I went to take the law school admissions test in 1968, we were among the only women in the room.” I think that's not only nonsensical, but laughable, and I was a Hillary supporter.

A blogger wrote: "Love's among the only places with gas left up Florida's interstate 4, according to folks filling up here."

A reviewer wrote that a particular restaurant was "among the only remaining authentic Jewish delis left.”

Yes, I know that all these writers were trying the convey the idea of just a few, but I still say their choice of words was nonsensical.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by guitarrista » Mon Dec 31, 2018 11:36 pm

gitgeezer wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:34 pm
I just read my first post again and still feel that way. I don't think my "understanding" has "evolved."
You've evolved your understanding from this:

" "Only" means alone, by itself, the sole representative of its kind, so "among the only" literally means "among the one.""

Not sure what the point of insisting you have not moved is - you even admitted it in a later post: "I concede that "only" can be used in a collective sense when it is associated with a number or an indication of scarcity". I do agree that the title of your thread did not anticipate that your first example would actually make sense.
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by jscott » Tue Jan 01, 2019 12:26 am

"I did know what the writer was trying to say but thought the choice of words rendered the attempt to say it nonsensical."

Of course you understood. We all do. The writing is entirely sensible.

"Writing should be logical, clear, concise, and effective..."

Umm, Marcel Proust, Pablo Neruda, Lorca, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Faulkner....

Again, when the exact number of women or gas stations or what have you is unknown, and you want to enlarge your point, 'among the only' will work. It's a rhetorical gesture. Sure, I'd agree that 'among the few' may be better. Maybe! If there are only a few gas stations, there's only a damn few when you say 'among the only'. It's a matter of emphasis. The phrase feints towards 'only one' without committing.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Tue Jan 01, 2019 12:47 am

guitarrista wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 11:36 pm
gitgeezer wrote:
Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:34 pm
I just read my first post again and still feel that way. I don't think my "understanding" has "evolved."
You've evolved your understanding from this:

" "Only" means alone, by itself, the sole representative of its kind, so "among the only" literally means "among the one.""

Not sure what the point of insisting you have not moved is - you even admitted it in a later post: "I concede that "only" can be used in a collective sense when it is associated with a number or an indication of scarcity". I do agree that the title of your thread did not anticipate that your first example would actually make sense.
I haven't changed a bit. I meant that when the expression is just "among the only," with no following quantity, it literally means "among the one," which is nonsensical, but when there's an associated quantity, such as "among the only four," it can be collective.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:05 am

I've come to the conclusion that I'm among the only good composition critics on this forum.
:D
Last edited by gitgeezer on Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by pogmoor » Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:11 am

gitgeezer wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:05 am
I've come to the conclusion that I'm one of the only good composition critics on this forum.
:D
Meaning is determined by usage. The meaning of 'only' has perhaps evolved?
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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by gitgeezer » Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:26 am

I got the expression wrong in my last post. It should have been: "I've come to the conclusion that I'm among the only good composition critics on this forum." Just having a little fun with the expression I'm criticizing.

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by pogmoor » Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:28 am

gitgeezer wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:26 am
"I've come to the conclusion that I'm among the only good composition critics on this forum." Just having a little fun with the expression I'm criticizing.
You didn't need to underline it quite so heavily - I think you've made your point :)
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Yamaha (SLG 130NW silent classical guitar 2014).

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Re: Syntax and Usages That Don't Make Sense

Post by guitarrista » Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:33 am

gitgeezer wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 1:05 am
I've come to the conclusion that I'm among the only good composition critics on this forum.
:D
:mrgreen:
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