Word of the Day: Unique

Unique adjective

/juːˈniːk/

Oxford dictionary:

  • being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else:
    • Everyone has a unique set of fingerprints
    • This situation was unique in the British economy
  • (unique to) belonging or connected to (one particular person, place, or thing):
    • a style of architecture that is unique to Portugal

Other forms:

uniquely adverb
uniqueness noun

First of all, I would like to thank Tiarel Toastmasters Club for giving me the opportunity to do a language evaluation at their club on 26 January 2013. It is always an honour to do language evaluation. The best part is that I get to learn more about a word. I tried to replicate what I did in a previous language evaluation, introducing a word that has a similar meaning to another in the English language. From there, I’ll point out the differences between the words.

Unique vs Special

If we were to refer to the Oxford dictionary, Special has the following meanings:

  • better, greater or otherwise, different from what is usual
  • belonging specifically to a particular person or place

The difference between unique and special is in the number of items which are similar to the one being described. When you describe something as special, it is possible that another object in question may possess the same qualities as the one you were describing. However, when you describe something as unique, that object is the one and only of such in the world.

Non-Gradable Adjective

If we look at the adjective, ‘cold’, we can describe different levels of “coldness” by coupling it with another adverb such as ‘very cold’, ‘fairly cold’, and ‘slightly cold’.

Unique, on the other hand, is a non-gradable adjective. It reflects a state something is in. We are unable to describe how unique something is as that object is the one and only. However, we can to use certain non-grading adverbs to describe unique such as ‘absolutely unique’ (to emphasise a point), ‘nearly unique’ (and therefore it’s not unique) or ‘in some aspects unique’.

Can we use the term “very unique”?

With that being said, can we describe something as ‘very unique’? My take is that it’s a no and yes.

In formal situations, ‘unique’ should retained its unique meaning. By describing something as ‘very unique’ is a wrong usage of the word and in my opinion, should not be encouraged.

However, I do personally feel that colloquialism (at least in the South-East Asia region) has made allowance for someone to use the word ‘unique’ as a sensing or feeling. As with many words of feelings, they come in different colours and flavours. ‘Very unique’ could have been used to give more punch versus the description, ‘very special’. It don’t really matter in this case as what matters more is whether you have put your point across to the person you are talking to.