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Example: Elaine: "You know those label makers make great gifts, I just gave one for Tim Whatley for Christmas." Jerry: "!@#$" Elaine: "Who gave you that?" Jerry: "One Tim Whatley."

What does the word "one" mean when used as a modifier?

  • Do you mean 'I just gave one to Tim Whatley'? And is it the second use of 'one' that you are interested in? – S Conroy Oct 14 '18 at 23:11
  • According to the title of the question, which refers to adding "one" before a noun, OP must be asking about "One Tim Whatley". That, @user2167582, means "a person under the name of Tim Whatley" or "somebody known as / called Tim Whatley". – Gustavson Oct 14 '18 at 23:19
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I'm assuming it's "One Tim Whatley" that you are interested in.

It means a certain Tim Whatley, who has to this point in time probably not been mentioned.

one (dictionary.com)

  1. a certain (often used in naming a person otherwise unknown or undescribed): One John Smith was chosen.

The other commenter gave an interesting answer which made me check out etymonline. I didn't find anything too useful on that specific meaning of 'one', but it's interesting that one derives from old English 'an' which is an older form of 'a'.

one (n.)

c. 1200, from Old English an (adjective, pronoun, noun) "one," from Proto-Germanic *ainaz (source also of Old Norse einn, Danish een, Old Frisian an, Dutch een, German ein, Gothic ains), from PIE root *oi-no- "one, unique."


So it could be speculated (at least until someone comes up with evidence to the contrary) that originally a/an Tim Whatley was used to legally specify that it was only one of several possible Tim Whatleys.

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I believe the origin of its use is from old legal jargon (possibly just television-legal, not actual legal) such as "The court hereby alleges that one John Doe did, on the night of September 29th, with malice aforethought..." (Where that comes from, I have no idea. I suspect "Legal" could give you a better answer.)

In the case you're asking about then, it's a form of humor that uses unnecessarily formal and serious language to discuss a trifling matter. Rather than Jerry just answering the question "Tim Whatley" he uses a (pseudo?) legal construction "One Tim Whatley" as if he is filing charges against Tim for re-gifting.

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  • 'That' introduces the statement of the charge made by the court. They said that John Doe had committed murder. – Kate Bunting Oct 15 '18 at 8:35

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