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"Only" is an adverb in this case, and can be placed anywhere in the sentence for stylistic reasons.

In all spoken language (as well as computer language), context is king, so we all knew what the title meant, your sandpaper notwithstanding.

If the author was trying to ask "What does Erlang force me to do?" then he would have written that.




Thank you for your reply - it's very useful to me to see the viewpoints of others. It's becoming clearer all the time that my use of and views on language are very much in the minority.

However, to respond ...

  > "Only" is an adverb in this case,
  > and can be placed anywhere in the
  > sentence for stylistic reasons.
That doesn't seem right to me.

    Only what can I do in Erlang? 
    What can only I do in Erlang? 
    What can I only do in Erlang? 
    What can I do only in Erlang? 
    What can I do in only Erlang? 
These, to me, mean different things.

  > we all knew what the title meant,
  > your sandpaper notwithstanding.
This is a case of "plausible interpretation" and I agree completely that of the different interpretations, probably only one of them really made sense given the context. It is still the case that I had to re-read to make sure something else wasn't meant, and I find it hard to believe that I'm unique.

But what I take away from your comment is that, in your opinion, we should just go with the most plausible interpretation we can think of, and not worry too much about being too precise. You are clearly in the (possibly overwhelming) majority.


OK, maybe "anywhere in the sentence" goes too far.

But the need for style in writing is super-important.

If I was telling you about how to beat the 2nd level of Legend of Zelda, I might say

  You can only get to the final boss by taking the door on the right.
Or I might say

  You can get to the final boss only by taking the door on the right.
Which phrase has more impact in your opinion?

Also note that in neither of these cases am I implying

  You can only take the door on the right.


I agree entirely that style is important, and moving words around can create different effects. No doubt about that.

Consider your example. You offer:

    You can only get to the final boss
        by taking the door on the right.
I don't know if that means that (a) if I take the door on the right then the only thing I can get to is the final boss, or if it means that (b) to get to the final boss the only thing that will be successful is to take the door on the right.

On the other hand:

    You can get to the final boss only
        by taking the door on the right.
That doesn't seem to suffer the same ambiguity.

The question is whether, for any given case, stylistic effects trump less ambiguity. People seem to think it does more often than I do.




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