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Fine-Tuning 25, A Somewhat Unique Post

 
 
Roberta
 
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 08:25 am
I'm waiting for the English mavens to start throwing things. We all know that "unique" is a word that cannot be modified. Right? We all know that something is unique or it isn't. Right? We all know that "somewhat unique" is wrong. Right? Maybe not right.

This is what Webster's has to say on the subject:

Many commentators have objected to the comparison or modification (as by somewhat or very) of unique. . . . Objections are based chiefly on the assumption that unique has but a single absolute sense, an assumption contradicted by information readily available in a dictionary. Unique dates back to the 17th century but was little used until the end of the 18th when, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was reacquired from French. H. J. Todd entered it as a foreign word to his edition (1818) of Johnson's Dictionary, characterizing it as "affected and useless." Around the middle of the 19th centruy it ceased to be considered foreign and came into considerable popular use. With popular use came the broadening of application beyond the original two meanings [numbers 1 and 2 below]. In modern use both comparison and modification are widespread and standard but are confined to the extended sense of the word [numbers 3 and 4].

1. being the only one
2. being without like or equal
3. distinctively characteristic
4. unusual
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 08:29 am
Quite amazing...
0 Replies
 
flyboy804
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 08:35 am
Higher authority or not, I'm with the old fashioned meanings. If we allow it to mean other than one of a kind; when we want it to mean one of a kind, we don't get our point across.
0 Replies
 
Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 09:20 am
I have this same problem with the word "probable."

People often use the expression "more probable" or "less probable."

But it seems to me that a thing is either probable or improbable.

It may be more likely to happen or less likely to happen -- but once it is probable, it is probable.

Modifying words like that really seems to be inappropriate.

In any case, dictionaries often carry meanings that are popular rather than specific -- even when a very specific meaning is more appropriate.
0 Replies
 
mac11
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 09:24 am
"Somewhat unique" reminds me of "a little bit pregnant." Very Happy
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 09:30 am
From: "The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. [online version]:
Quote:
For many grammarians, unique is the paradigmatic absolute term, a shibboleth that distinguishes between those who understand that such a term cannot be modified by an adverb of degree or a comparative adverb and those who do not. These grammarians would say that a thing is either unique or not unique and that it is therefore incorrect to say that something is very unique or more unique than something else. Most of the Usage Panel supports this traditional view. Eighty percent disapprove of the sentence Her designs are quite unique in today's fashions. But as the language of advertising in particular attests, unique is widely used as a synonym for worthy of being considered in a class by itself, extraordinary and if so construed it may arguably be modified. In fact, unique appears as a modified adjective in the work of many reputable writers. A travel writer states that "Chicago is no less unique an American city than New York or San Francisco," for example, and the critic Fredric Jameson writes "The great modern writers have all been defined by the invention or production of rather unique styles." Although these examples of the qualification of unique are defensible, writers should be aware that such constructions are liable to incur the censure of some readers. See Usage Notes at absolute, equal, infinite.



This, however, seems to be a 'problem' in most (modern) languages.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 12:07 pm
My problem isn't with the qualification of "unique;" rather, it's with the people who insist that "unique" cannot be qualified.

Sure, an argument can be made that "unique" (meaning "one of a kind") cannot take a modifier. "Unique," however, is hardly unique in this sense (irony intended). Many words are absolute in the same way, and should likewise take no modifiers. Yet the same people who would blanch at the thought of saying "very unique" often have no qualms about saying "very true" or "very certain" or "very distinctive." Surely these terms are robust enough that shading their meanings, for instance through litotes, will do little harm while fittingly conveying the writer's intentions.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 02:22 pm
I speak as a non-modifier of unique, in my personal usage of the word, however idiosyncratic this may be; indeed I wish to hurl an unusual object or two.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 02:28 pm
Don't be throwin' nothin' now, lil' dog, somebody could get hurt . . .

The eternal struggle in language rears its harlequinesque head--usage versus definition. Definition is necessary lest communicative ability be lost. Languages which do not change, however, die. If you really want to see the history of a word which changed radically in short (a few hundred years) order, look up "nice" in the OED.

I would be very unlikely to modify "unique," unless i were not paying attention. I don't have any problem with those who do, i understand that they just wish to communicate an intensifier--always a pure D delight.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 02:49 pm
I've long held that the crowd that insists many words can't be modified (there are some that really can't) demonstrates absurd logic through their rigid view of it.

Joe makes a good point.

Not allowing a word like "probable" to be modified is an absurd simplification of the word and is logically flawed.

Something "probable" can be at 51%. 51% and 99% are very different.
0 Replies
 
Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 02:53 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
I've long considered the crowd that insists many words can't be modified (there are some that really can't) to demonstrate absurd logic through their rigid view of it.

Joe makes a good point.

Not allowing a word like "probable" to be modified is an absurd simplification of the word and is logically flawed.

Something "probable" can be at 51%. 51% and 99% are very different.


Well you are incorrect there, but that certainly is not unique.

A thing can be 99% likely or it can be 51% likely -- but if it is "probable" -- it is "probable." If it is imporbable, it is improbable.

Thing that are probable are not all equally likely.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 02:58 pm
Frank, you are using a limited definition. And you are wrong.

MW wrote:

probable
1 : supported by evidence strong enough to establish presumption but not proof <a probable hypothesis>
2 : establishing a probability <probable evidence>
3 : likely to be or become true or real <probable events>


You are using definition number 1.

Definition number 3 can be modified.

Some things are more likely than others, and probability is not binary in nature.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 03:00 pm
Personally, i fail to see any substantive distinction between "probable" and "likely" . . .
0 Replies
 
Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 03:12 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
Frank, you are using a limited definition. And you are wrong.

MW wrote:

probable
1 : supported by evidence strong enough to establish presumption but not proof <a probable hypothesis>
2 : establishing a probability <probable evidence>
3 : likely to be or become true or real <probable events>


You are using definition number 1.

Definition number 3 can be modified.

Some things are more likely than others, and probability is not binary in nature.


Craven, if a thing is "likely to be or become true or real" it is probable.

If event "a" is more likely than event "b" -- and both are at least 50% likely, then both are probable.

One is not more probable than the other -- although one may be more likely than the other.

Although everyone uses "more probable" (I know I occasionally do) -- the fact is in a strict sense, that useage is incorrect. A thing "a" may be more likely than a thing "b" -- but once we have established that "a" and "b" are probable -- it really is erroneous to consider one to be more probable.

It's like someone mentioned -- pregnant. A woman is either pregnant or not pregnant -- and how long into term she is does not make her more pregnant or less pregnant.

The correct term should be that it is more likely.

Sorry, but you are the one who is wrong here.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 03:42 pm
Frank Apisa wrote:

Craven, if a thing is "likely to be or become true or real" it is probable.

If event "a" is more likely than event "b" -- and both are at least 50% likely, then both are probable.


Correct.

Quote:
One is not more probable than the other -- although one may be more likely than the other.


Incorrect. Degrees of probability do. in fact, exist and the proscription of modifiers is incorrect.

Quote:
Although everyone uses "more probable" (I know I occasionally do) -- the fact is in a strict sense, that useage is incorrect.


That's false. It's not in a "strict" sense but in a "limiting and ignoring the definition" sense.

Quote:
A thing "a" may be more likely than a thing "b" -- but once we have established that "a" and "b" are probable -- it really is erroneous to consider one to be more probable.


Again, this is incorrect. You can repeat it again and again but it will not become correct. There is such thing as degrees of probability.

Quote:
It's like someone mentioned -- pregnant. A woman is either pregnant or not pregnant -- and how long into term she is does not make her more pregnant or less pregnant.


No, it's not like "pregnant". There are degrees of probability.

Quote:
The correct term should be that it is more likely.

Sorry, but you are the one who is wrong here.


I understand that you wish to think so, and can see why. But that does not make it so and you are incorrect.

It's true that there is an initial delienation between what is probable and is not probable that is binary.

But it is also true that varying degrees of probability exist.

M-W defines probable as"likely to be or become true or real", that can be modified to reflect degrees of probability. You can say you are right till you are blue in the face but it will not make it so.
0 Replies
 
Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 04:07 pm
No, Craven, once again you are simply wrong.

But if it makes you feel any better about your sad lot in life, stick with it.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 04:08 pm
Ain't language a tool, not a prison?
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 04:10 pm
Frank Apisa wrote:
No, Craven, once again you are simply wrong.

But if it makes you feel any better about your sad lot in life, stick with it.


Frank, why do you react with insults when people think you are wrong? My life is far from sad. I'm quite happy. Laughing
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 04:11 pm
I find this introduction of probable to be hilarious. In game theory, probability is endlessly mutable, and many discussions of game theory are simply impossible without a recognition of "more" and "less" probable.

Weren't we discussing unique? Frankly, i believe my take on the subject is the most uniquely probable one.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2004 04:12 pm
Hmmmm - despite logic, phrases such as "very pregnant" and "spectacularly pregnant" DO make sense and are very, and often amusingly, descriptive!
0 Replies
 
 

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