Unlike No Other

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I heard a radio announcer say that something was “unlike no other.” I could tell from the context that he meant the thing he was talking about was unique.

As I usually do when I read or hear nonstandard usage in a professional context, I jumped on my search engine to see if anyone else was using it. What I found suggests that many speakers use “unlike no other” as if it did mean “one of a kind.”

Relationship problem… unlike no other? (about a boy who feels his romantic situation is unique)

Urban Novel Unlike no Other (reviewer recommending a novel)

Trees unlike no other (description of unusual trees)

A community unlike no other! (a group of gamers)

A show unlike no other (ad for an entertainment program)

The expression “unlike no other” doesn’t mean “one of a kind.” On the contrary, it means “like all others.”

The prefix un- makes a word negative. In English, adding not to a statement that contains an un- word is said to cancel out the un-, resulting in a statement to be taken as a positive. Example: “I am not unhappy.” is equivalent to “I am happy.”

Note: A discussion of the “two negatives equal a positive” rule in English calls for a post of its own. This one focuses on why the expression “unlike no other” should be avoided.

Like means “having the same characteristics as something else.” Adding the prefix un- to like creates an adjective that means “dissimilar.” Technically, to say that something is “unlike no other,” is to say that it is “like everything else.”

To express the thought that something is “unique” or “one of a kind,” drop the un- and say that the thing is “like no other.” For example,

Grab a cup of cider and head to Red Arrow Park in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a fun, low-key New Years Eve like no other.

A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York (book title)

Another way to express the thought is to use the phrase “not like any other.”

They proof their dough for 24 hours which allows it to rise and ferment to a flavor not like any other bread available in Brooklyn…

This is truly a movie not like any other.

Apparently the wording “unlike no other” sounds pleasing to the ears of many speakers, but it is not standard English.

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12 thoughts on “Unlike No Other”

  1. I quite agree – ‘like no other’ seems a perfectly normal thing to say, where ‘unlike no other’ sounds distinctly odd; I suppose ‘unlike any other’ would be permissible, but it still manages to sound a little strange.

    On the topic of ‘not something or other’, I find that ‘not unattractive’ dose not quite mean the same as ‘attractive’, at least in the UK subset of English. ‘Not unpleasant’ has a different shade of meaning, if you will allow such an expression, to ‘unpleasant’, although I seem to remember Orwell castigating its use in something like ‘The not unbrown dog chase the not ungrey rabbit across the not ungrey field’ in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’.

    Thank you as always for a fascinating and informative web-site; it is one of my favourites.

  2. It’s similar to “I could care less,” which actually means…what? I care a little, but I could care even less than that? Or, I care a lot, but I could care a lot less than that? I’m not sure when “I couldn’t care less” became “I could care less,” but it seems these days that the latter is far more common than the former. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean what the speaker is trying to say.

  3. I’m hoping that most of these writers simply did not proof their work carefully, or, if spoken, simply misspoke. It’s the kind of thing that most people would probably recognize as an error after the fact. The negative they were trying to express–“like no other”–perhaps looked positive so they carelessly added the “un” to the like.

    That’s my take on it this morning, though I could easily see this as part of the slippery slope of decline of the English language and civilization in general.

  4. Example: “I am not unhappy.” is equivalent to “I am happy.”

    No, it isn’t. Not in literature.

    There are several shades of grey between black and white. (Some say as many as fifty.)

  5. I’d be interested in your take on the “two negatives equal a positive” rule. There is, of course, at least one instance in common parlance where two positives equal a negative:
    Yeah, right.

  6. Quoting:
    Apparently the wording “unlike no other” sounds pleasing to the ears of many speakers, but it is not standard English.

    The real problem is that the statement is not even logical.
    For years now, high school students have not been taught logic in English courses, and furthermore, Euclidean geometry is not taught in most high schools anymore. Back in the 1970s, my geometry teacher told us that geometry is not just about figuring out interesting things about figures. He said that it was about working things out logically in any field of study.

    Also, in computer science students are no longer taught the tough, precise programming languages where everything has to be written down exactly – else it doesn’t work.

  7. Let’s not forget that the same “logic” applies to the prefix IR. Yet another reason– as if more were needed– why irregardless is ir-acceptable as meaning “without regard”.

    I think things like this originate when one or a couple of people are heard more widely than they should be. Then people, parrot-like (psittacinically?), simply repeat what they hear without ever considering what it actually means. Again, they just “take it for granite” that if everyone is someone is saying it, then it is good enough.

  8. @John, above – I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never understood why I hear ‘I couldn’t care less’ in Britain and ‘I could care less’ in the US when both speakers mean the same thing. Does anybody have any explanation?

  9. I’m saddened, but not surprised, that “unlike no other” has gained some currency among the almost-educated public.

    It reminds me of the non sequiturs used by Groucho Marx to flummox adversaries and to gain the upper hand, e.g., “I dreamt of a bladeless knife that had no handle” and “I can’t say that I don’t disagree with you.”

    The inability to grasp the illogic of a particular point in a discussion often causes folks to defer to a speaker’s/writer’s underlying, general argument. More debates are won by baffling one’s opponents than by converting them.

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