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The Tomb of the Unknown Solider has the engraving "KNOWN BUT TO GOD", as presumably no man knows his name, but shouldn't it read "unknown, but to God", as the default for everyone is "unknown", with the exception "but to God"?

Is the construction older? How should it be parsed?

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Gravestones of unknowns in Commonwealth cemeteries are inscribed "Known unto God". –  Brian Nixon Jan 18 '11 at 22:14

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up vote 21 down vote accepted

In the phrase

Known but to God

but functions as an adverb, and, as such, it means only. Thus, the inscription could very well read:

Known only to God

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So the comma I figured was implicit doesn't belong there at all, as it changes the meaning? –  Nick T Jan 19 '11 at 13:11
    
@Nick T: Right, the comma doesn't belong there. With the comma, but becomes a preposition, which means except! –  Jimi Oke Jan 19 '11 at 15:05

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