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"Anyway, what does he know about it, some o' the best I ever saw were the only ones with magic in 'em in a long line 0' Muggles -- look at yer mum! Look what she had fer a sister!"
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Does ‘the only’ mean ‘the best’? (dictionary.reference.com, adjective 7)

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In some very limited contexts, yes. As the example you linked to ("The one, the only...") demonstrates, the word "only" can be used to mean "best" in a somewhat indirect way by saying that some person, entity, etc. stands alone in their field, implying that they are the first ever to achieve such a high level of expertise or skill, and thus they are, by extension, the best in their field.

However, in the above context (Harry Potter), no. The word "only" means that the folks referred to by "some o' the best" were literally the only ones in their family lines to have magic abilities; no other person before or beside them had such abilities.

This doesn't imply that they were the best magicians. In fact, quite to the contrary, it seems that some other character (the "he" in "what does he know") has implied that Harry's lack of magical heritage is in fact a very bad thing, not a good thing. (If I'm interpreting this correctly; I know little to nothing of the story.)

However, the speaker does state outright that the characters he refers to are "some o' the best [they] ever saw". So while "the only" doesn't mean "the best", "the best" does mean "the best".

  • I think OP's dictionary link is misleading, and that only never really means best. It just so happens that the one and only XXXX is usually used approvingly, but I don't think that's the case in this instance of watched carefully by the one and only Mussolini, for example. And just because Tigger is pleased that he's the only one doesn't mean "I'm the only one" necessarily has positive connotations. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 10 '13 at 18:04
  • The point isn't that the phrase "the only" always means "the best" when prefixed or juxtaposed with "the one", but rather that there exist cases in which it does. I do, however, agree that the dictionary perhaps shouldn't carry this definition, as even in these cases "the only" doesn't really mean "the best"; the sheer fact that the subject is the only {something} implies (in context) that he is the best, but it isn't really a definition of the word "only". – Ken Bellows Apr 10 '13 at 18:09
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No. It is definition 5 from the page you've linked:

being the single one or the relatively few of the kind

It means that in the entire family, the only ones had magic, while everybody else in the family did not.

Since the sentence says that "some of the best" fit this description, it seems to be discounting the idea that family history is an indicator of likelihood to be one of the best.

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