One of the Only Posts on Usage Here

Excuse me while I exercise my inner dinosaur, or maybe it’s just my language curmudgeon, but every time I read the phrase “one of the only” I think less of the writer.

What does “one of the only” actually mean? I imagine it to be a lazy writer’s way out when the author thinks the person — it’s a phrase usually applied to a person — is in fact unique, but the writer is not quite sure, so out comes “one of the only” as a hedge. In other words, “one of the only” means “one of the few, or maybe the only the only, I don’t know for sure.” Well, heck, why not look it up somewhere?

Mr. Google tells me that I’m not one of the only people bothered by this — though clearly not everyone who has noticed the rise of this odd phrase cares. More surprisingly, some others think “one of the only” means “one of a small group,” although why the author can’t then say that, of just “one a few,” I don’t know.

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