"First and Only"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Aug 29 15:35:30 UTC 2009

At 11:12 AM -0400 8/29/09, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>There are over 12 million raw ghits for "first and only"--over 26000 for
>"first and only president" alone, e.g.,
>"photo of Jefferson Davis, first and only President of the Confederate
>States of America"
>The sample content demonstrates how this description can be useful and
>accurate. This does not mean that it is _always_ useful or accurate. But
>I can see how someone may describe "first and only visit" in the context
>of a second planned visit that never occurred.

Or because it's a context in which you might expect there to be more
than one, like being president of a nation (as in Jeff Davis's case)
or trip to the U.S. for someone famous like Freud or Dickens, given
that other internationally renowned writers and scientists more than
one such trip.   So it's more likely to describe a given Hollywood
actor's "first and only wife/husband" than to describe his or her
"first and only death".

We might, for example, talk about Barack Obama as being the first and
only African-American president or Geraldine Ferraro as being the
first and to date only female vice-presidential candidate on a major
ticket; saying "first" alone would certainly imply that there have
been others, while saying "only" wouldn't focus on the primacy and
trail-blazing effect of the referent.


>And, after that, it's not
>much of stretch to extend the use of such language to all exceptional
>    VS-)
>Bill Palmer wrote:
>>In today's NY Times, Leon Hoffman writes "Sigmund Freud arrived in =
>>Hoboken, N.J., 100 years ago today on his *first and only* visit to the =
>>United States"
>>If there is no second time, can there be a first?  Is an ordinal number =
>>ordinal, if there is no order?  Why not omit the "first and"?
>>Bill Palmer
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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