Less is More When it Comes to “Unique”
The word unique is related to a whole class of words derived from the Latin word for one, (unus) for example: uniform, unilateral, and unicorn.
Soldiers tend to look alike when they are in uniform.
Among allied states, a unilateral action is one taken by one member or “side” only. (Latin latus = side)
A unicorn has one horn. (Latin cornus = horn of an animal)
The word unique has the meaning “one of a kind.” It is a useful word and the widespread misuse of it tends to dissipate its usefulness.
Listen to any talk show and you will hear people say that something or other is “very unique,” or “rather unique,” or “somewhat unique.”
Such usage corresponds to saying that a woman is “somewhat pregnant.”
With unique (as with pregnancy) there is no middle ground.
If something is unique, that’s it. To precede the word with an intensifier like “very” or a comparative like “less” or “more,” defeats the purpose.
That is not to say that one mustn’t ever use a word to modify unique.
One CAN say that a thing is:
- nearly unique
- really unique
- perhaps unique
- in some respects unique
but never ever “very unique.”
TIP: Preserve the unique usefulness of the word unique by thinking twice before putting a modifier in front of it.
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