In a document at work there were two variations on a statement. One was “when x occurs” and the other was “only if x occurs”.
When this went out for comment to a range of people, about a third of them couldn’t tell that there was any difference between the two. What has happened to the power of “only”?
It got me wondering if this is a side-effect of the watering down of superlatives etc by modifiers. But it was a handy reminder that words don’t mean the same thing to people who don’t deal with words as we writers do. Even the simple, common ones like “only”.