NOTES AND QUERIES. [9 th s. ix. MAY 10, 1902.
"ONLY TOO THANKFUL."
(9 th S. ix. 288.)
I REALLY think that DR. MURRAY is making a nodus in scirpo of this matter, and that, after swallowing many sematological (the word is his) camels, he is now straining at a sematological gnat.
In this elliptical colloquialism it seems to me that the word " only " is used in order to denote that the sentiment expressed is the least that the speaker can say on the subject, while the word " too " implies that the speaker is more thankful than he can express, or in certain cases too thankful to dream of de- clining any proffered boon. The phrase might be resolved as follows : " All that I can say, or the only thing I can say, is that I am too thankful for adequate expression or too thankful to dream of declining such and such a thing."
Similarly in the phrase "only too true" the idea implied is that the least, or the only thing, that can be predicated of the subject is that it is too true to be doubted or dis- puted, as in the Italian phrase troppo vero, or pur troppo vero. PATRICK MAXWELL.
It seems to me that in this now very com- mon expression the "only" and the "too" are to be taken separately as qualifying the " thankful." " Only " means that the feeling of thankfulness so dominates the heart of the speaker that there is no room for any other ; he or she is nothing but thankful. And the " too " means that this feeling is too strong to be expressed in words. The " only " may, however, be taken to mean that this "too" is so in a unique sense. But in "only too true" the "too true" undoubtedly means that the matter alluded to is true, but that the speaker wishes it had not been so ; it is too true to please him or her. Here again the "only" probably means that this feeling is entertained in a unique sense, intensi- fying (as the speaker supposes) the " too." But what it really does intensify is the feel- ing, or express even more strongly the wish that the matter in hand had not been true. For a thing can only be true or false ; " very true" is a redundant expression, like "in- fallible" as applied to "proof," which the revisers have properly removed from Acts i 3
W. T. LYNN. '
I cannot give the exact date of the first time I heard an expression of this kind, but
am certain that it was between the years 1849 and 1853. I had made a trivial present to a cousin, and she said on receiving it, "Oh, Edward, you are only too good to me." What the present consisted of I have long forgotten, but her words impressed me at the time, for I had never heard the idiom before, though of course I became very familiar with it not long after. A friend has shown me since DR. MURRAY'S question appeared an instance of the kind in one of G. Lawrence's novels. I give the extract : ** This fancy the other was only too ready to indulge " (' Sans Merci,' by the author of * Guy Livingstone,' chap. xvi. Tauchnitz edit., 1866, vol. i. p. 209).
I have asked several people what they mean by "only too thankful," and all who have thought of the meaning at all agree in explaining the phrase in this sense : to be " too thankful ' is to show or feel gratitude in excess of what the occasion demands ; "only" in this connexion means "simply." A lady who had sent a poor neighbour a dinner was asked if the man was thankful. " Only too thankful," she replied ; " he simply overwhelmed me with his gratitude." To be " too glad " may be explained similarly, or as meaning " too glad for words," though this is less likely, I think. C. 0. B.
There is an analogous idiomatic expression in German, **nur zu froh "=sehrfroh, which is understood to be used ironically. See H. Paul's sematological ' Deutsches Worterbuch ' (Halle, 1899), sub ' Nur,' p. 332. H. KREBS.
"COMICALLY" (9 th S. ix. 285). There can be no doubt that Fuller wrote this word in the passage quoted, and that there is no need for change. He says that a voyage "ended sadly and sorrowfully " (in the manner of a tragedy) which had "begun comically" i.e., pleasantly and cheerfully, in manner of a comedy. This sense of the word was quite common in the late sixteenth and early seven- teenth centuries, and, howsoever " unknown to the dictionaries" generally, is certainly not unknown to the 'N.E.D.,' which, amongst other examples, quotes Fuller, stating that Job's end was " comicall." To our ears the use sounds even laughable, but how strange are the whirligigs of sense which some words pass through ! Often and often have I heard a rustic say, " I felt so comical, I thought I was going to die." C. B. MOUNT.
MR. DEEDES appears to have overlooked the fact that this word had once the sense of happily, fortunately. The ' H.E.D.' gives