I recently got into it with someone over a quirk of the English language while having some of my work edited. It was a wholly pedantic argument and I thought that I would share it and ask you all to join in with your own thoughts.
It’s the word “unique” and how it is supposed to be an absolute term, and in that capacity it may not have any linguistic or logical value.
The argument goes something like this:
A comment is made that a certain thing is “utterly unique”.
This is rebuked on the grounds that saying something is “unique” indicates that it is the only one of its kind. Therefore it is an absolute, something cannot be more or less unique. Things are either unique, or they are not. It is a term like best, something is either the best or it is not. There is no more best, or less best, or bestest.
However, it is argued, that much beyond the atomic level, everything is unique. Two apparently identical items will have slightly different molecular structures, different amounts of dust accumulated on them, different histories of use, different relative positions in the universe… ergo everything is unique in some way. If everything is unique, the word has no meaning or value. It is automatically redundant.
This is then followed by a brief fist fight and a long night of wondering whether or not anything actually exists.
What do you think? How should “unique” be used? Can it be qualified? Can something be very unique? Should those that attempt to qualify it be dragged into the street and beaten to death with copies of the OED? What is the most bestest way to use it? Are there any other words whose misuse annoys you? Are there any whose misuse is more valuable that the “proper” one?