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.