Punctuation matters

Pompous Stupidity

Oliver Kamm…….

Not the best opening for a piece complaining about word redundancy there T Newman. However:

Now the article he links to is a bit crap, but so is Kamm’s dismissal of it. The biggest error the columnist makes is equating stylistic preferences with grammar, which despite Kamm’s complaints about people doing this has nonetheless gifted him a regular column with which to share them.

Regardless of the other points the columnist makes, he is right to advise against using the term “very unique”. If I saw such a pairing I’d think the author ought to have found a better description, or – if it was unique – to drop the “very”. Kamm’s argument seems to be that if a famous writer has used it, then everybody else can too. This is idiotic. In Charlotte Brontë’s case, the overall quality of her output allows her to use pretty much any term she likes. But not everyone is Charlotte Brontë and if their work does not match her standard, they have less leeway.

Well, yes, but:

“That’s very unique”


“That’s very, unique

Have rather different meanings. Punctuation matters….

22 thoughts on “Punctuation matters”

  1. Fucking hell, Tim. I hardly think you’re the guy to be complaining about such matters as spelling, punctuation and grammar in blog posts!

  2. It’s either unique ie one of a kind, or it isn’t. Using the name of Charlotte Bronte as an authority only works if you supply the example where she used it. The chances are that she knew the meaning of the word

  3. The only examples I have seen for “very unique” are ones where unique could or probably should be replaced with “interesting” or “unusual”. The meaning of unique is being extended but that is no reason not to fight against it. Eventually you get to the point where a word has 2 opposite meanings and it becomes extremely ambiguous. For example, if I read “egregious”, I have to stop to work out whether in this context it means “surpassing” or “shocking”.

  4. “That’s very, unique

    The technical term for an amendment of this nature is “disimprovement”.

  5. I hate it when something rare is described as “one of the only” when it should be “one of the few” or “the only”.
    “One of the only” now seems to outnumber “one of the few”, at least on TV.

    I am also the first to admit that I can also produce terrible grammar.

  6. Among the literate, ‘unique’ means just that. By its nature, it admits no qualification. So I agree with Tim Newman.

    Btw, I do recommend Tim Newman’s blog:


    When Tim N hits gold, he’s better and sharper than many MSM commentators….(I don’t always agree with Tim; but he’s sharp, sane and well-informed.)

  7. Theo: By its nature, it admits no qualification.

    Up to a point and certainly as far as adverbs of degree are concerned but would you cavil if I referred to your wonderfully unique contributions to this thread?

  8. It’s like I have to stop whenever I read “entitled” to work out if today it means “has paid in in the past so now has the right to have the benefits” or “has never paid in anything and now is demanding, insisting, on the the right to have the benefits”

  9. One or two comments seem to tend towards condemning ‘almost unique’.
    It is perfectly ok to say eg ‘This blue pillarbox is almost unique. There is only one other in the whole country.’

  10. No.

    Unique is a singular digital property of a thing, something either has that attribute or it doesn’t.

    “That’s very unique” (the addition of the word ‘very’ demonstrates the the speaker is a fuckwit)


    “That’s very, unique”

    Perfectly good use of English, the comma indicates the pause whilst the speaker flounders around for an inoffensive adjective to describe events.

    ‘ almost unique’ is also wrong, it’s rare, very rare, almost unimaginably fucking rare but it’s not unique until it is the only one, and then it is.

  11. TMB

    “…would you cavil if I referred to your wonderfully unique contributions to this thread?”

    Yes. Because ‘wonderfully’ is redundant and because my contribution is not unique.

  12. Where is the redundancy in “pompous stupidity”? Or is it that “Oliver Kamm” is commensurate with “pompous stupidity” ?

  13. @bobr,
    You don’t seem to get the meaning of the word ‘almost’.
    ‘Almost’ means ‘very nearly but not quite’.
    ‘This is almost the largest dome in the world”
    This is almost the only pub in the county that serves Guinness’
    ‘This batsman is almost the top runscorer for his country’
    ‘That long jump was almost a record’
    ‘This blue pillarbox is almost unique’

  14. I noticed that at ell (English learners list) there is a heated discussion on ‘very unique’. They decided it is OK because it had been used in the past and Macmillan have a dictionary entry defining unique as synonymous with ‘good’.
    It amuses me that I can disagree with their ‘unique’ perspective on the proper use of the phrase ‘very unique’.
    Here of course I am using the word unique to mean ‘wrong’. Isn’t English wonderful!

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