Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The One and Only

My brother dropped by for a visit the other day with his two-year-old daughter. My two kids were home with me at the time, and Mark and I "enjoyed" an afternoon of monitoring the movements of three boisterous young children, which is kind of like herding fish. Before leaving, Mark presented us with a parting gift: a sleek black electric kettle. Evidently, he had come across an enticing sale at a discount store and had loaded up on them because, hey, everyone loves a kettle.

I've always been a stove-top man myself, but I have to say I have been impressed with the electric kettle's brisk efficiency. I was, however, stopped short by the first commandment in the user manual:

You mean I can't use water anywhere else? Not even to wash the chocolate cookie detritus off the kids' faces before their mom gets home? Of course, that's not what they mean at all. What they mean is that I am advised to "use only water" in the kettle, as opposed to, say, coffee, beer, or liquid nitrogen.

Only is one of those slippery modifiers that needs to stay close to the word it's modifying (and in the right sequence), or else it can end up changing the meaning of the sentence, as neatly evidenced in this little tutorial I found online, which is attributed to the ever-prolific Anonymous.

"She told me that she loved me." Let us count the ways:

Only she told me that she loved me." (No one else has told me that.)
only told me that she loved me." (Provided no evidence of her love.)
"She told
only me that she loved me." (Not the gabby type.)
"She told me
only that she loved me." (She had nothing more to say.)
"She told me that
only she loved me." (Sad, hearing no one else loves me.)
"She told me that she
only loved me." (Doesn't idolize me, but loves me.)
"She told me that she loved me
only." (Ahhh!)

Would that all slippery words came with such a concise flash-card guide. If only.