What does “only” mean?

15 Jul

If written words and their contexts have ascertainable essential meanings to you, then this will be illustrative.  If the meaning of words, written texts, is indeterminate to you (you are a postmodern literary deconstructionist), then the placement of the word “only” here is meaningless (the sentences mean whatever you want them to mean).

From Keith Burgess-Jackson

Notice how the meaning of the following sentences changes as the word “only” is moved:

1. Only Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: No one else claimed it.)

2. Professor Wu only claimed that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She didn’t prove it; she only claimed it.)

3. Professor Wu claimed only that Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed nothing else.)

4. Professor Wu claimed that only Socrates wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that no one else wrote poetry.)

5. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates only wrote poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates didn’t read poetry; he only wrote it.)

6. Professor Wu claimed that Socrates wrote only poetry. (Meaning: She claimed that Socrates wrote nothing besides poetry.)

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