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The following is from a Telegraph article "Here's why I'll be giving the no make-up selfie a miss".

More than that, why should anyone dictate that looking as stripped as Shaker furniture is the predetermined lot of the cancer patient? As it happens, my friend and I share a firm belief in the alchemical properties of quality maquillage. Chanel Rouge lipstick and Clinique foundation have proved as important for her morale as chemo has been for her recovery. Only yesterday her radiographer told her she couldn't possibly be old enough to have a daughter in her twenties.

As I understand it, the last sentence means that never before yesterday did her radiographer tell her she couldn't possibly be old enough to have a daughter in her twenties.

If my understanding is correct, "only yesterday" has a negative meaning that affects the following clause. And I wonder why the reporter didn't invert the order and say "Only yesterday did her radiographer tell her she couldn't possibly be old enough to have a daughter in her twenties."?

Is the inversion allowed here?

If so, is the inversion optional as opposed to mandatory?

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If what the reporter meant by only yesterday was indeed a negative—"not before yesterday"—inversion would as you say be in order.

In this case, however, the phrase means "as recently as yesterday"; it might be paraphrased "just yesterday". It is consequently not apprehended as a negative, and does not call for inversion.

  • If my understanding is correct, OP's proposed inversion (inclusion of do-support?) would imply that prior to yesterday, the radiographer wasn't able/willing to offer the compliment (she finally did it yesterday, as opposed to did it just yesterday). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 12 '17 at 14:23
  • @FumbleFingers That would indeed be my reading. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 12 '17 at 17:27
  • As far as I know, "only yesterday" has the literal meaning of excluding all other days except "yesterday". So, it's not any day before yesterday or any day after yesterday. I think that the former means "no earlier than yesterday" and that the latter "no later than yesterday". And I think that in your own term, "no earlier than yesterday" means "not before yesterday" and "no later than yesterday" means "as recently as yesterday". If so, shouldn't "as recently as yesterday" be apprehended as a negative as well? – JK2 Jan 13 '17 at 5:45
  • @JK2 Paraphrases and "shoulds" don't come into the matter: in this context "only yesterday" is not apprehended as negative. Note that this holds in other positions, too: negative only is 'raised', properly, to modify the VP (I only saw her yesterday), non-negative only remains attached to the temporal it modifies (I saw her only yesterday). – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 13 '17 at 12:24
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In that usage I interpret "Only yesterday ..." to mean "As recently as yesterday ...". It does preclude the same thing being said (by the radiographer or anyone else) on a previous occasion. The "only" is used to emphasise that it was said as recently as yesterday. The whole text is saying that the mother does not look old enough to have a 20 year old daughter and that that was said yesterday.

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