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Can there be more than one "unique"?[edit]

Jerry Miller and I are discussing whether "unique" can refer to exclusion from a small set, or whether when some people try to say that their definition is correct, and they use references such as dictionaries, they usually are trying to enforce majority or elitist views. The debates about Black English and then Ebonics exemplify how semantics can become political.

For "unique," its use to indicate rarity rather than singularity is disputed according to:

I should note that Will said "a unique answer counting only common uncapitalized words." I added the "one" to get "one unique." However, to say that a problem has "two unique" answers would not offend my sense of semantics. I think that authors, especially of puzzles, have a duty to make their meaning clear (I guess poets have a license if they want to invite multiple meanings). I see no problem with adding redundant words, especially if some people may misunderstand without the redundancy.
I thusly apologize that you had to read one unnecessary word.

Rrenner 16:45, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

Jerry's quote above invokes what is usually called the "etymological fallacy". The idea that each word must have only one definition, and that that definition must match the origin or etymology of the word, runs totally counter to basic linguistic principles and would make almost every English sentence full of "errors". Self-styled grammarians only invoke this idea when they're trying to criticize some disputed usage that is a shibboleth. For instance, I've never seen any of these people say that "December" should only be used for the 10th month because "dec" means "ten".

What about the book titled, "Totally Unique Thoughts." This suggests that there could be, for example, "mildly unique thoughts." I think the disputed definition deserves a more through usage note saying that "unique" is used so ubiquitously in this sense that there only snoots think it's disputed. 04:11, 14 May 2007 (UTC)

Do you know what saying always pissed me off? "Everyone's unique!" Now that's a saying that really puts the moron into oxymoron. Of course not everyone's unique, that would utterly defeat the aim of uniqueness. -- 15:12, 1 May 2009 (UTC)

Everyone IS unique!  Each person may be put into a group so exactly defined that only that person fits into that group. That makes the very act of grouping them that way pointless, and that's why uniqueness has no absolute meaning. It's only a relative term meaning special. By insisting that something is absolutely unique, you are deliberately putting it into a mental box by itself. But don't pretend that you are adding to that thing's specialness by so doing.  Uniqueness is as arbitrary and subjective as the mental process of sorting and grouping. Benster 22:40, 28 April 2011 (UTC)

It works if you parse it as "Humanity (collectively) is unique", i.e. there are no other comparable life-forms. I doubt anybody ever meant that by it, though. Heh. Equinox 15:15, 1 May 2009 (UTC)

Actually humanity, which is a species, shares many characteristics with other species. Humanity is widely spread, though not universally, over the globe, just like other species. All samples share distinctive traits, they inter-mate, they have sub-species or races.  So, humanity is not least not THAT unique! Benster 22:47, 28 April 2011 (UTC)

It's a SUPERLATIVE, damn it!! A synonym of "unique" is "one of a kind". Try saying "most one of a kind" in place of "most unique" and hear how nonsensical it sounds. Something is either one of a kind or it is not. The word "unique" is never used with a modifier; if you see it being modified, it is a grammatic error. There can be sentence constructions where "unique" appears to be modified, but careful parsing of the structure will reveal that it is not the target of the modifier. For example:

This Web site has the most unique visitors.

Here, the word "most" is referring to the visitor count, not the word "unique", meaning that repeat visitors to the Web site are not being counted, only those who appear once and never again. Although at first blush it appears to be a grammatic error, it is not.
Be suspicious of persons who promote alternative views on the use of superlatives: If you probe a little deeper, you'll probably find someone who was asleep during English classes in grade school and high school and is too pig-headed to admit that he is just plain wrong on the subject.
Quicksilver@ 15:00, 29 September 2010 (UTC)

Funny: "One of a kind" actually sounds not unique at all, for example one can of Bud, no particular one, out of a case of beer!  But if we mean the "only one of its kind" or sui generis, then that depends on the kind, which is a group created by human arbitration, a subjective thing which we can design to have as many or as few samples in it, according to our needs. But putting any one thing into a group of which it is the only member is pointless and phony. You may as well just consider the thing itself. Benster 22:45, 28 April 2011 (UTC)

People asleep in English class... like professional grammarians? You may want to read the lengthy article for "unique" in the MWDoEU. "Unique" has been modified in degree since it first became widely used in the English language. MW says: "The evidence allows several definitive conclusions. Those who insist that unique cannot be modified by such adverbs such as more, most, and very are clearly wrong; our evidence shows that it can be and frequently is modified by such adverbs. Those who believe that the use of such modifiers threatens to weaken the "having no like or equal" sense of unique are also wrong; our evidence shows that the "having no like or equal" sense is flourishing. And those who regard the use of unique to mean "unusual" or "distinctive" as a modern corruption are emphatically wrong: unique has been used with those meanings for well over a hundred years." Agarvin 00:44, 12 December 2010 (UTC)
I don't think the use of comparative unique is down to misreading of "most unique visitors". Evidence? Equinox 17:23, 29 September 2010 (UTC)
It's such contributors as you, Agarvin and Equinox, that drag collaborative efforts like Wiktionary into the gutter and make it useless as an authoritative reference. Go ahead, drive on the wrong side of the road against traffic, if you like; after all, it's just a minor difference of opinion.Quicksilver@ 18:47, 11 March 2011 (UTC)
The word has no absolute meaning looked at reasonably with a careful, semantic view. It can only be used usefully, in a relative way, as a synonym for rare. Samuel Johnson thought the same way and he has some credence in the dictionary world, no?

Benster 22:51, 28 April 2011 (UTC)