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It's Unusual to Use Unique Properly: An Introduction to the column
by Roger MacBride Allen
The word "unique" is much abused, and much misused. It means "the
only one of its kind, singular, unlike any others." It is an absolute. It can't
take a superlative modifier or a modifier of diminution. There can be no such thing
as "very unique" or "somewhat unique," any more than there can
be "slightly dead" or "partially pregnant." Even so, poor old
"unique" gets superlatives slapped on it all the time. Worse, it is put
to work as a superlative for "unusual." I cringe every time I hear some
allegedly educated English-speaker say something like "these twelve very unique
copies of the originals."
When a word gets slapped around enough, I become cautious about using it, for
fear of doing more damage if I get it wrong myself. It is therefore with some hesitation
that I suggest that my perspective is indeed unique. But, still and all, there it
is. I am reasonably certain that I am the world's only American science fiction
writer married to a U.S. Foreign Service officer, late of Brasilia, Brazil, but
now settled in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Speaking of unique, the municipal laws of Takoma Park make it illegal for a private
citizen to operate a nuclear power station, and we've struck a blow for freedom
by banning all trade between the city and the government of Burma. Welcome to Berkley
Of course, every person's viewpoint is unique, if it is described in precise
enough terms. The view from 432 Shady Lane is going to be unique -- even if the
view from 434 Shady Lane is quite similar. For all of that, I would submit that
The View From Here -- from my present situation, and from my life in general --
is significantly different from most other perspectives, and this column is intended
to reflect that fact.
Older columns will remain on line for some time to come. In the new and old columns,
I offer my thoughts, for what they are worth, on life in Brazil, on the job of being
a writer, on the teaching of writing, on issues in science and politics, and whatever
else strikes my fancy. I hope you enjoy it. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments.