One Place Only…

Today after the historic appearance of Pope Francis before the US Congress, I read the headline, “The Pope only shook hands with one politician.”  It was, of course referring to the Pope’s singular handshake with Secretary John Kerry as he walked down the isle on his way to address Congress.

This sentence structure reflects one of the most common errors in our anguished language; the placement of the word “only”.  I estimate that somewhere close to one hundred percent of the time in our daily exchange–verbal and written–when we use “only”, we put it in the wrong place in the sentence.  In the context above, the Pope did not only shake hands with one politician as he made his way toward the dais.  For starters, he walked, then he smiled, then he waved, then he shook John Kerry’s hand.  The correct structure of the sentence is “The Pope shook hands with only one politician.”  The latter sentence is better because it reflects the real meaning we are trying to convey.  When we communicate, it’s important to strive for precision and good logic.  Good communication is founded on good logic.  These qualities, precision and logic, lead to greater clarity.

So listen for the “only”.  It belongs in only one place or, perhaps, in one place only.  It certainly does not only belong in this place!