2018-02-28 / Editorials

Lesson o’ the day: ‘Onliest’ ain’t a word

Len Robbins

As the regular reader of this column can attest, I’m not the greatest champion for proper English.

I know that sounds like blasphemy coming from the “editor” of a “newspaper,” but I write my columns like I speak, which means sometimes I produce a run-on sentence like the one you are currently reading.

Proper usages of grammar, past, present and future tenses aren’t really my strong suit either. A former teacher made me keenly aware of this many years ago when she sent back one of my columns with corrections in red ink all over it.

Thus, even when I hear or read misuses of my Mother Tongue, I rarely correct. That would be hypocritical.

But then again, in keeping with the consistent hypocrisy I’ve shown in writing this column, I’ll make this one exception.

I’m making this exception not on the basis that this certain violation of our language particularly bothers me, nor do I find it offensive. I just believe that as a matter of public service, it is my duty to educate people if a word they are using doesn’t exist.

The word I speak of is one I hear constantly, coming from the mouths of babes, mouths of nonbabes, and mouths full of mashed potatoes alike. At first, I thought it was an isolated incident, like that first time I saw a flash mob. But then, I noticed that it had engulfed local language like a plaque of chronic halitosis, or a flash mob, whichever you find least desirable.

The word I speak of is “onliest.” It is used as in: “This is my onliest right arm.”

Apparently, people are using “onliest” when trying to convey the idea that an item or person or whatever is their one item or person or whatever.

But what these people need to realize — and mind you, I’m not being critical — is that the word “only” doesn’t need a more extreme tense. “Only” is good enough. It means that it is the one right arm that you have, the only one. Unless you have two. In that case, you may want to stop reading this column immediately and consult a physician, or a carnival.

For instance, you don’t say “that is the worstest column I have ever read.” You say “that is the worst column I have ever read,” unless it’s this column, and then you are allowed to use “worstest.”

The biggest advantage, though, for using “only” instead of “onliest” is that “only” is shorter. That in itself leans me toward “only.” I’m too lazy for that extra syllable.

Again, I remind you that I bring this message not to mock anyone, but rather for informational purposes. As stated, I’m a strangler of the English language myself and don’t make it a habit of correcting people on their strangulations, unless it is me they are strangling. Or they are on the Internet and insult someone about their “grammer.” In both those scenarios, I let them have it.

So, to conclude, I quote the late, great Jerry Reed, who in “Smokey in the Bandit” — an homage to improper usages — said “We ain’t never not made it before.”

I couldn’t agree more. I think.

© Len Robbins 2018

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