Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lonely Only

When Al Dubin and Harry Warren wrote "I Only Have Eyes for You," they were out to write a good pop song. Any attention to grammar was, at best, secondary. It had to sound good, period (and it does, methinks).

But, at the risk of alienating all of our Dubin- and Warren-loving readers, I'd like to use the song's chorus to illustrate a very common trouble spot in the usage of the word "only."

As written, the "only" in the chorus modifies the word "have." As in, the singular verb that can be used to describe the relation of my eyes to you is "have," and that doesn't even make sense. Let us consider some other possibilities for the placement of "only:"
  1. Only I Have Eyes For You -- this example is clealy not the intended meaning; quite the opposite in fact. "You're so goddamn ugly that no one but I could ever find you attractive."
  2. I Have Only Eyes For You -- this example is also funny, but almost as non-sensical as the real song. "No hands; no feet; no nose; no ears---just eyes, baby. That's all I gots for you." (Weird-o.)
  3. I Have Eyes Only For You -- Okay, now we're getting closer to the intended meaning. The "only" here modifies "for," with the resultant meaning: "I like you and nobody else." On review, this usage clearly indicates something different from the example below. "I have eyes only for you suggests no other purpose for having eyes (e.g., to see things). The true intending meaning lies only below.[blushes]
  4. I Have Eyes For Only You -- Here, the meaning is basically the same as above. "You are the sole object of my adoration. Nothing else is in that category." But it doesn't sound as poetic. So the singer probably wouldn't get laid (unless it were Sinatra; Sinatra always gets laid).

The moral: be mindful of the word "only." Its meaning can shift wildly, leading to results that are confusing, if sometimes droll.

P.S. Don't use the word "droll," either. You sound like a dick.

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