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The scenario is the protagonist in this novel had been experimenting a theory her colleague have had told her (is the tense correct?) that eye contact with another person for more than six seconds without looking away or blinking revealed a desire for either sex or murder.

She reflexively hadn't believed this, but it had intrigued here enough to test it out on various friends and strangers. To her surprise, with the exception of John [her husband], one of them always looked away before the six seconds was up.

– Cited from Still Alice

My question is, why did the author use "one of them" but not "each one of them" or "every one of them"?

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    Perhaps because he meant "only one other person", and not "all of them" (or "each of them"). It is possible that he meant "at least one other person". – Mick Oct 23 '16 at 7:59
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    I think your suggested edit would improve the original. It reads awkwardly to me, too. – J.R. Oct 23 '16 at 8:28
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    I suspect that it means 'every time she tested it out on various friends and strangers, either her or the other person looked away' - it wasn't her every time and it wasn't the other person every time. – Sydney Oct 23 '16 at 9:22
  • @Mick Thank you Mick. You answer is what Sydney said,is it? If it is, I think you are right! I didn't think of that. – Jasmine Kuo Oct 24 '16 at 3:24
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In your scenario, there are two people staring at each other. The theory is that within six seconds

one of them

will look away. In this usage it means "(at least one) will look away" since it is possible that both might look away at the same time, but the speaker does not know which one will look away ahead of time. In a large group, this phrase would also have the same meaning, that at least "one" of the group does something.

To say

each one of them
every one of them

would mean that they all did something e.g. all looked away, but in this case some of them might not have looked away so these two phrases might be incorrect.

  • One does not equal at least one, not even in English. – Alan Carmack Oct 23 '16 at 16:28
  • @AlanCarmack If both people look away, would the speaker be incorrect by saying "one of them will look away"? In this usage the speaker is saying "(at least) one of them" which is different than saying "(only) one of them will get the flavour they want". – Peter Oct 23 '16 at 18:05
  • I would say that "one" stands for: "any one of the two (i.e. them)" than at least one – Mari-Lou A Oct 23 '16 at 18:41
  • I would say "any one of the two" = "either one" = "two choose one" which is different than "one of them" = "either or both (of them)" = "two choose one or two", both "any one of the two" and "one of them" imply "at least one" is chosen, neither mean "two choose none". – Peter Oct 23 '16 at 18:54
  • Thank you all for helping me. I get the gist meaning from Mick and Sydney. But is there any other way to put the words in?I mean interchangeable phrase. – Jasmine Kuo Oct 24 '16 at 3:29
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In this exchange of looks, the experiment can't be carried out by her with a host of friends and strangers all at once; it's a one to one experience staring right into the other's eyes. Both are subjected to the same test. Flipping of eyelids (blinking) or casting the look away may happen to ONE OF THEM engaged in this look-lock.

The writer deliberately chooses not to use generalising expressions​ — each one of them, everyone of them— so as not to let down by missing the nuances of this look-lock-game.

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