if-only (n)

pl. if-onlys: a pining wish to have done something differently than one did. The conditional function thingified. Very often connected to the idea of time-travel, or wanting to curl up into a ball. A common symptom of someone suffering nostalgia (or mellalgia), or FOMO.

Seen most recently in Bud Foot’s book on the Connecticut Yankee:

“And yet, it seems to us, they [pre-Industrialists] must have thought of it; surely, like us, did if-onlys…’If only I could go back and change it.’ But nobody seems to have thought that way, at least from the evidence of the literature.”

First I saw it was in Lewis Sachar’s Holes (1998) where the protagonist spends an awful lot of time wishing things were different:

If only, if only,” the woodpecker sighs,
“The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies.”
While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
Crying to the moo-oo-oon,
If only, If only.”

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