One of the Only Unique Misusages

Today I’m putting on my “disgruntled editor” hat to point out some misusages that are growing in popularity. I wish I could say, “in order to catch them before they get established,” but I’m afraid I’m too late and not nearly influential enough for that. 🙂

I guess it’s a side effect of inflation, which has hit words at least as hard as currency. It’s getting harder and harder to express a true superlative, because all the superlatives have been watered down by overuse. Believe it or not, there was a time when only some manifestation of the Divine rated the adjective “awesome”; now it might be applied to a pair of shoes, a video game, or the fact that one’s friend has received permission to go out tonight.

Similarly, in this world of cloning and global communication, it’s gotten difficult to convince people that anything is really one-of-a-kind. It used to be sufficient just to say “unique,” which means precisely “one-of-a-kind.” But now people think they have to emphasize that: something is “very unique” or “the most unique.”

People, listen to yourselves! You can’t qualify “one-of-a-kind.” It either is, or it isn’t. It can’t be “more unique,” “less unique,” or “somewhat unique.” It could be “almost unique,” if it’s one of a very few; I might even let you get away with “absolutely unique,” if you want to emphasize that nothing else even comes close. But if what you really mean is just that it’s highly unusual, please please please just say so!

And then there’s “one of the only.” This is an inflationary form of “one of the few,” a perfectly serviceable phrase whose appropriateness has not diminished through long use. But apparently “one of the few” doesn’t suggest sufficient exclusivity any more. Now everything has to be “one of the only.”

Again, listen to yourselves! This is a logical impossibility. “Only” is the adjectival form of “one.” You can’t be “one of the one.” What do they teach in math class these days?!

I didn’t advertise language rants as a regular part of this blog, but proper use of the English language is an essential tool of any writer, so I’m not off topic. Really. The soapbox is part of the furniture, and I don’t plan to redecorate any time soon.

P.S. This soapbox is dedicated to the memory of my father, Jim Bolger, an editor of the old school who was, if possible, even more irritated by abuses of English than I am.


10 comments on “One of the Only Unique Misusages

  1. Donna Farley says:

    When I want to communicate that something is actually one of a kind, I now resort to saying “truly unique”. But I’m not sure if the audience always understands….

    I like your soapbox just the way it is.

  2. Where’d you get your soapbox? Can I borrow it? Mine always cracks after a few exclamations. Shoddy stuff. Maybe if I just wrote on it it’d hold up better . . . Do you follow my scooter of thought?

  3. Katherine,
    Welcome to blogging on wordpress. I look forward to reading (and reading about writing, etc.).

    May God bless your soapbox.

  4. Ginny says:


    Then there’s the use of “your,” as in, “Your going to the party, aren’t you?”
    It’s kind of curse when one is wired to notice this kind of thing! My dad was like your dad, Katherine–another old school editor. He used to gleefully pounce on grammatical errors and misspelled words in his little local paper. Wouldn’t he have a field day today!

    • It is a curse. Sometimes I’ll pick up a book that looks interesting, see errors on the first page, and put it back on the shelf. Bad design/typography has the same effect. I probably miss out on some good books that way.

  5. Susan says:

    This will lift your spirits:

    On Soquel Dr across from the old drive-on there’s a LARGE sign for a new knitting shop which read Chic’s with Stics!

    Cute title but oh! Chic’s ?
    For several months I thought about calling them about the error, but thankfully someone painted over it before I made the call.

    Reminds me of the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves who wanted to prowl throughout her neighborhood with white-out (wite-out?) and a Magic Marker.

    • Susan, one wonders, not only why they stuck in a superfluous apostrophe, but why they felt it necessary to drop the “k” from both words. The “Rockys” sign on Highway 9 has been bugging me for years–I want to sneak up with a Sharpie some night and write in an apostrophe.

  6. Anne the Sis says:

    Hear, hear!
    May I add my pet peeve?

    I am also astounded by the misuse–perhaps overuse–of the humble apostrophe. The biggest offender I have found is “its” used in place of “it’s” as well as the reverse!

    It’s probably a good thing that Dad never got around to learning how to use a computer. He would have never finished reading his daily email, due to all the corrections he would have sent back!

    • Amen to that pet peeve! And yes, I can see Dad correcting emails for hours every day. 🙂
      Lately I’ve been seeing “here, here!” instead of “hear, hear!” I want to respond, “Where, where?”

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