Only: Qualitative or Quantitative? Different Persepectives

Danielti

New Member
English
This morning I said to my friend with happiness and optimism, "Pete! It's only 67 degrees out!" To paraphrase, I was trying to say that it was not cold outside (compared to the past couple of days, something of which I think he did not consider, which is what I believe caused him to respond in the way he did). He then went to explain that the way I used the word "only" was wrong. Was I? If you think the argument below might sway you, please respond first and then read it and perhaps then re-respond to amend or not amend your initial comment.

Here's my argument:
I believe the word "only" is a measurement of quality; it is a way to signify the highness or lowness of a specific quality (that quality being a good or bad one is a negligible fact). I was measuring the quality of temperature. However I was viewing temperature-quality from the "coldness" or "the amount of cold" perspective, making "coldness" the quality under examination by my statement (which I understand is a negative quality, but a quality nonetheless).

I understand that there was a miscommunication in that he was looking at "temperature" as a "hotness"- or "the amount of hot"-quality, which is a different perspective from the way I looked at it, which makes the misunderstanding an understandable one. However, when I tried to explain all of this to him, he continued to claim that I was erroneous and "only 67 degrees" cannot connote the lowness of the "cold quality" simply because it sounded weird and different. To exemplify my view on the use of word "only", I said, "it's only 99 cents!" in an optimistic tone, which implies that the "quality of expensiveness" is at a low. Still, he insists that I am wrong, not merely looking at things from a different perspective.

Sorry if that was kind of long for a post, I just signed up after trying to find some evidence to support my argument online. Let me know what you think!
 
  • lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Hello Danielti, and welcome to the forum.

    I see what you are saying, but I agree with your friend.

    Usually, in these sorts of phrases, "only" means "and nothing more". If you told me "It's only 67 degrees," in an excited manner, I would assume that the last several days had been much hotter and it currently was no hotter than 67 degrees. To say that "only 67 degrees" meant it was less cold sounds strange to me.

    Likewise, if something is "only 99 cents", it doesn't cost more than that.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum.

    A personal opinion:
    Unfortunately I agree with your friend. When I hear "only" before a number, I think you are commenting on how low the number is.

    Of course, clues like tone of voice and context, as you point out, will influence how I interpret what you say. Communication requires a well-intentioned listener as well. If we have been complaining about the cold, and you happily report to me a temperature that is not very cold, I will understand your intention perfectly well.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    By your "qualitative"/"quantitative" distinction, do you mean that "only" can mean "no worse than" as well as "not numerically higher than"?

    If so, I agree:)

    If, for example, the weather forecast had predicted that the temperature would drop to 57 degrees, and the temperature was in fact 67 degrees, I wouldn't find it at all strange if someone said to me "it's only 67": I'd take it as meaning it's only dropped as far as 67: it's not as bad as we expected.
     

    lablady

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    If, for example, the weather forecast had predicted that the temperature would drop to 57 degrees, and the temperature was in fact 67 degrees, I wouldn't find it at all strange if someone said to me "it's only 67": I'd take it as meaning it's only dropped as far as 67: it's not as bad as we expected.
    This example sounds better to me, but I would include the fact that the temperature was going down in my sentence by saying, "It's only dropped to 67", or "It only got down to 67". The "only" is emphasizing the drop in temperature rather than the simple number and still contains the meaning of, "and nothing more."

    As usual, the context makes the difference. :)
     

    dwipper

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Technically speaking, I agree that your original statement was correct. Only can be either quantitative or qualitative depending on the context. The problem as I see it is that your usage was ambiguous. And unless there was something else that was said right before or after that clarified the context, I would assume that you intended a quantitative sense of the word.

    So is it technically wrong? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that it's the best option.
     
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