The Reckoner!

Can something be "very" unique?

When you're a grammar and language aficionado, there are a few cases that cause a kneejerk need for correction that is almost impossible to contain.  "Irregardless."  "I could care less."  "For all intensive purposes."

The phrase "very unique" is part of that pantheon.

You see, for something to be "unique", it must be singular.  There is only one thing like it -- itself. Applying a modifier like 'very' (or 'somewhat' or 'kinda') is wrong, because there is no middle ground to apply to being unique -- it either is, or it isn't.

Others feel, however, that this usage of unique is not the way people actually use it.  From their perspective, 'unique' and 'unusual' have become synonyms, and enforcing the binary meaning is just being a prescriptive pedant.  And nobody likes a prescriptive pedant.  Or sentence fragments.

Merriam-Webster isn't helping much on this front -- it actually lists both definitions, and waves its hands in the air with some explanatory text.

Since the argument for and against often comes down to the popular usage, this is a chance for we, the Reckonauts, to settle it right here.  Tell me, folks!  Is 'very unique' just fine, or a shiv in the side of the English language?

Reckoning Results!
WINNER!
It's fine!
No way!
Stop the pedantry!
We need to stop this!
36.0%
(54)
64.0%
(96)
Previous Reckoning!
PREVIOUS!
Cheesesteak Battle, Part 2! Whiz or Provo?
Next Reckoning!
NEXT!
Would you save your romantic interest from an island filled with life-threatening horrors?


Reckoning Comments!

Irregardless has always been something I've found unforgivable, but it occurred to me recently that if 'inflammable' and 'flammable' can mean the same thing, why can't the same hold true for 'regardless'?

Then I snap out of it and put my scowl back on.


ok, I just had to post because of one of the offensive phrases about... it's not "For all intensive purposes.", it's "For all intents and purposes" -- ok, got that off my chest....

and "I could care less", to me, it's sarcasm at it's very best... I suppose I COULD care less... but it would be hard :)


See -- it's automatic!  It's almost impossible to resist!  It physically pained me to type out 'for all intensive purposes' and not correct it.  We're talking nerve damage, practically.


You can play around with semantics indefinitely... "unique" means only one of its kind, but adding "very" only emphasizes that nothing else even comes close to it.  That's my opinion.

"Irregardless" is incorrect wording -- actually a combination of two words -- and "could care less" doesn't actually mean what the person is saying.... So I guess you could say the connotation of the phrase and denotation are not in sync.


Maybe I watch too much Pawn Stars, but I can see how the modifier is useful.  In my mind, the difference between "unique" and "very unique" is a quality v. quantity differentiation.  

Snowflakes are "unique" in that no two are alike.  But, they are not "very unique" insofar as they are quite common and plentiful.


Yes a snooty and annoying case can be here.  We get it - logically the concept of uniqueness, by definition, does not allow for adverbial, superlative, or comparative enhancement. 

However, my opinion is that if someone misspeaks -  or worse they are unaware the words they have uttered do not make logical sense - yet they fully understand the meaning of what they are saying and that meaning is also 'fully' conveyed to the listener, who gives a &*&*.  Further, if you are the one feeling glee and superiority and enjoy either correcting them or quitely sitting with a smug face, I suggest that true happiness for you would be in sitting in front of a slew of third graders and making them miserable for 1700 hours of their formative 8th year of existence by telling them things like, "Burgers get done, people finish."

I could also attempt to discuss, philosophize perhaps, upon meaning itself, its mental representations, and the fact that when most people speak, their meanings, if scrutinized, are usually rather fuzzy and often logically inconsistent.  This might suggest a little Nah-Nah-Nah to the the camp of people who don't just nod their head when someone says things like, "But he is like really unique," but I don't want to be pedantic myself and will leave it at the first point.

--- 

Full disclaimer here (the driving force of opinion often being clouded by one's individual psychology):  Likely the reason I'm writing is because yours truly is the first one to say things like "I just let the cat out of the box," and "For all intents and purposes," and when I notice, it makes me feel stupid like Bif from that series of films that I imagine from his blog our host Dan is quite familiar with.  And I suspect, out of jealousy, our host also happens to be quite slick in some of these pedantic ways that I am not and as such doesn't make the same mistakes as oafish guys like me.


@Roy Batty

Actually, you'd be surprised how many times I pull a "Biff" myself!  Nothing quite as bad as "why don't you make like a tree and... get out of here", but I've pulled a few whopping malaprops in my day.  Most of 'em are on the podcast, and that's even with the benefit of rerecording and reediting all the times I end up eating my tongue.

I'm actually a big fan of descriptivism, especially when speaking.  I definitely agree with you that if you got your point across, then mission accomplished, regardless of how you got there.  I also definitely agree with you that this sort of pedantism drives all the joy out of language, much of which comes from using it in interesting and inventive ways.  Also, just as Dan Lloyd mentions, sometimes bending the rules a bit can make your language more effective.


There's probably a disproving example that's not coming to mind and I invite anyone to rub it in my face, but I think anything that has a noun form ending in "-ness", like "uniqueness", can exist in degrees.  


Evidenced by dictionary.com and others, 'unique' is an adjective and noun and has many different perspectives. 

So I go with unique meaning something is different, outside the norm. As in, "she has a very unique smile".

So, IMO, something can be 'very' unique. 

Really, really, very, very different and unusual. Setting it apart from the norm. 


The Reckoner!