Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

It’s true — there’s only one ‘only’

By · Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

not teaching,
still THINKING …

If you listen carefully to what people say, you’re likely to hear this phrase: “one of the only …”

It doesn’t make sense.

Something can be “one” of a specific number, such as one of three, or it can be the “only” one, meaning just that.

Words take up valuable space when written and precious time when spoken. It makes sense to tighten words when possible, especially when clarity is at issue.

What does it mean, for example, to say: “One of the only times I broke my leg was when I was skating.”

The phrase “one of the only” confuses the message.

We might not care about this person’s leg, but think about it:

And if you’re deciding the veracity of anyone’s statement about anything, you’d be sure to keep in mind that there’s only one “only.”

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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