The latest fashion in Wordland is to remove the glue that holds sentences together. The conjunction, that mainstay of English grammar, gets little respect. People are using the construction "not only ... but also" without the "but," let alone the "also."
It is unclear why this is. Nobody would think of omitting the "and" in a "both ... and" construction. Nobody would write, "Both Judy Richard are coming." But many people think nothing of writing, "This contest is not only unfair to cats and dogs, it is an affront to cows and horses that have travelled a long way to attend."
In grammatical terms, "not only" and "but also" are correlative conjunctions, stablemates of "both ... and" and "either ... or." They make the connection between two parallel elements of a sentence. Using only half of the pair creates a comma splice – independent clauses held together only with the duct tape of a comma. The result is difficult to read and annoying to parse.
Now, it should be noted that even careful writers sometimes drop the conjunction for effect, but only when the elements are brief and the effect is worth the transgression. The New Yorker in 1988 printed the sentence, "Rowers not only face backward, they race backward."
That's not what is going on now. Long sentences are being stripped of connective tissue as though it were an impediment to good writing rather than a crucial component of it.
Here is a recent example. "Not only am I local, I devised the route for this little event while looking for a way to spice up my regular training in the city." Here is another. "This volume not only supplements the five-volume Selected Journals, it is an opportunity to revisit Montgomery's earliest self-portrait now that we know so much about her life: her..." (This continues for several more lines.)
Here is a third. Take a deep breath. "As parochial administrator at St. Patrick's, considered the mother church for the city's 250,000 English-speaking Roman Catholics, he not only raised another $1-million for a new copper roof for the downtown landmark, he replenished the church's capital funds and converted an abandoned parking lot below the basilica into a park."
Part of the problem is an overuse of "not only." If that phrase had simply vanished from the last example, and if the "he" before "replenished" had been omitted, no one would have been the wiser.
Once upon a time, the main violation that grammarians had to deal with was a lack of parallel construction in the elements shepherded by "not only ... but also." Somebody would write, "He was not only bright, but he was also courteous," instead of, "He was not only bright but also courteous" (or "but courteous as well," or some variation thereon).
Then the question arose of whether it was permissible to drop the "also" (or its equivalent) from the team, such that one might write, "She was not only smart but athletic."
The Canadian Writer's Handbook (2005 edition) said that omission "results in a feeling of incompleteness." The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999 edition) said "also" may be omitted "if something else furnishes the balance or if the second part of the sentence describes an action more sweeping than the first." It offered examples of both. "She not only invited them to dinner but even paid for the taxi." "They not only went but took all their friends."
Now even the "but" is being kicked. Perhaps it is time to start a fund to care for abandoned conjunctions. Protesters could carry signs saying, "Respect the 'but also.'" There might be homes where comma splices could have their conjunctions reattached.
To paraphrase a lyric from the animated TV series Schoolhouse Rock, "Conjunction Junction, where's your $200-a-head special function?"