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Some documents such as medical prescriptions and cheques employ the word "only" in an interesting manner:

(Dpbsmith via Wikipedia)

On cheques the usage is something like "Three hundred dollars only".

The intention seems to be to prevent tampering by making it impossible to alter the original meaning simply by appending text.

My questions:

  1. Is this indeed why "only" is used in such contexts?
  2. When and where did this practice originate?
  3. Where is it still in common use today?
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  • (1) Yes (on cheques); it's almost a big punctuation mark. But with the prescription form, the usage means 'don't [try to] use these forms for prescribing eyedrops / antibiotics / magnifying glasses ... (3) It's still quite acceptable, and used, with cheques. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 12:19

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The word only, when placed at the end of a line of text indicating the purpose of an instrument or the amount of a sum of money, seems to have a legally binding restrictive force.

One example in U.S. law relates to endorsements on checks. According to Roger Miller, Business Law: Text and Cases (2014):

INDORSEMENTS FOR DEPOSIT OR COLLECTION A common type of restrictive indorsement makes the indorsee (almost always a bank) a collecting agent of the indorser {UCC 3-206(c)}. In particular, the indorsements “For deposit only” and “For collection only” have the effect of locking the instrument into the bank collection process. Only a bank can acquire the rights of a holder following one of these indorsements until the item has been specially indorsed by a bank to a person who is not a bank {UCC 3-206(c), 4-201(b)}.

One of the earliest instances in a Google Books search of an article where "for deposit only" is recognized as a form of restrictive endorsement is in The Banker's Magazine and Statistical Register (September 1879):

In the August number of your magazine I notice in "Inquiries of Correspondents" a query in regard to erroneous indorsements and your answer thereto.

Suppose "C D" had indorsed the check "for deposit," would your answer have been the same?

REPLY.—We think there is a distinction between the to cases. In the former, the indorsement was "For deposit only to my credit," which, being addressed to the drawee bank, restricts the deposit to a credit on its books. But the mere words "For deposit," indorsed or stamped on a check, may be regarded as a memorandum indicating that the check is to be paid through some bank, and not to any bearer who may present it.

The May 1881 issue of The Banker's Magazine adds this comment:

The use of these indorsements has increased of late years, and is evidently intended to obviate the danger of loss, which may arise in the ordinary course of business, until a check is safely deposited in the usual channels of collection.

It thus appears that "for deposit only" may be a shortened form of the restrictive endorsement "for deposit only to my credit." Use of that shortened form remains extremely common in U.S. banking today, more than 135 years later.

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