…Or is it unique?
Maybe it’s “somewhat unique?”
Or, I know, how about “very unique?”
I ask these questions because in the past few weeks I’ve read or started to read at least a dozen Kindle books in which things were described as being in some degree “unique,” and it’s been driving me crazy because I was taught very early in my writing career that using any qualifying word along with “unique” was the sign that the writer was “an illiterate jerk whose work doesn’t deserve to be read by any reasonably educated human being.”
That’s not a made-up quote, by the way. It’s something the publisher of a group of what back in the day were called “men’s magazines” said when he read the first article I wrote for him. He followed his words by throwing a well-thumbed old dictionary across the desk at me and staring stonily as I looked up the word in contention and learned that:
Unique means the only one of its kind
This experience engraved the “unique” meaning directly into my writing brain, heart, and soul, and I admit to being a major enforcer of “Men’s Magazine Publisher’s Fist Law of the English Language ever since. From my stint as an editor of several of his magazines to my time as writer, story editor, producer, and creator of various TV shows while writing my own books, and finally to teaching others the ins and outs of becoming the kind of writers whose work does deserve to be read by human beings, I’ve held the line.
As a result of reading this recent batch of books I’ve gone from being annoyed about the misusage of “unique” in what I’ve been reading to being exasperated, and then angry. And then – wonder of wonders! I must finally be growing up! – to become self-doubting.
Could it be that I’m wrong? Could all these different writers, whose work I’ve otherwise been enjoying, be correct? Have literary, societal, and cultural changes transformed the old “unique” into a new form “rare?”
There was only one way to find out. I hied my way to Google’s version of the Oxford English Dictionary, looked up the definition, and found:
Unique means being the only one of its kind
Holy shit! Yeppers, kids, what these illiterate morons are doing is still wrong!
So, loving writers and readers everywhere as I do, I’m passing this information on and alerting you to the fact that from now on, if and when I encounter a unique that isn’t really, I will promptly stop reading its source, for the simple reason that I am, after all, a “reasonably educated human being” who–
What I am is a reasonably educated human being who was about to suggest that everyone who reads this follow my example and boycott otherwise terrific writers, thereby missing out on what could be a hell of a lot of fine reading time, as will I. Damn, that’s crazy. As crazy as I’ve been for hanging onto a precept put out by a publisher who, due to the very nature of his product, has shown himself to be, if not an illiterate jerk, certainly a jerk nevertheless.
Life moves forward. Thing change. And I’m going to change as well. I accept the inevitable and look forward to the time when the Oxford English Dictionary and all the other dictionaries, acknowledge the somewhat very uniqueness of this fact.