What Is “Very Unique”?

I did very well on the math part of the SAT but not as well on the verbal part (I did ok, but I was definitely more MIT than (or is it “then”) Harvard.)  Since the phrase “unique” crosses over nicely between the math and verbal sections it belongs in my Pet Peeves universe.

Today I was in a meeting where someone mocked the phrase “very unique.”  I smiled since I’ve heard this one so many times.  His next statement was “unique means one of a kind – that means something can’t be ‘very’ unique.”

I knew I’d seen an interesting rant on “very unique” on the web somewhere and I was uniquely pleased that Google didn’t fail me.  In addition to the “pro very unique” argument, I found some “anti very unique” and “definitive there are no very unique” people.

Don’t forget to get your domains straight.

  • That was a plot point on West Wing once. Sam fired a speech writer for using “very unique” in a first draft of a presidential speech.

    I thought it was appropriate.

    • Andrew Chestnut

      As well as being "Extremely historical."

    • Josiah Bartlett

      That's not what a plot point is. And, since we're debating accuracy here, Sam didn't fire the speechwriter. The speechwriter worked for Nasa. His name was Scott Tate (which is strikingly similar to your name). His penalty for making this mistake was public humiliation, followed by the president instructing Sam to rewrite it. The episode is called "Galileo." Go watch it and don't ever reference an episode of "The West Wing" again!

  • Dave

    The pro-“very-unique” rant is based on poor epistemology and essentially denies that we can have objective categories. Things are “unique” only within a category, and further they’re usually only unique in the context of our experience since we haven’t observed every member of that category.

    Better options include “unusual” (very unusual) and “distinctive” (very distinctive), with the latter being best applied to perceptual attributes and the former a more generic term.

    Since we already have two perfectly good words for the situation, there is no reason to drag another into having the same meaning.

  • tlanger


  • The ‘very unique’ argument also made an appearance on a season 4 episode of The West Wing:

    “‘Unique’ means ‘one of a kind.’ Something can’t be very unique, nor can it be extremely historic.”


    • Guest

      season 2 not 4

  • What Dave said… To which I’d add – the word “very” should probably be banned for anyone that doesn’t want to sound like they have the vocabulary of a six year old! Other words on the “banned list” include “good” and “nice”…

    Using banned words in combination is probably verging on the criminal e.g. “Our technology is very good and nice.” 😉

  • Perhaps the problem isn’t with the term “very unique,” but with the use of the word “very.” We only include very into the lexicon because adjectives in generally are flagrantly used. The only way to differentiate is to modify the adjective. If we all dropped the word “very,” perhaps the need for the word would cease. “Unique” should be a fine term to express the idea all by itself.

    I’m very glad you posted this 😉

  • Jim

    Since I am sitting in the united lounge it made think of the airline agents favorite phrase, “..Please take your seat this is a very full flight…”.

    Its either full or almost full, my completely full would be more appropriate for the emphasis.