A brief defense of “more unique.”

Many people think that “more unique” or “most unique” is an error of usage, on the argument that “unique” refers to an absolute, singular status (being different from everything else) that does not admit of gradations. But that just seems wrong. Unique certainly doesn’t admit of gradations insofar as one can be different from more or fewer other things — “more unique” shouldn’t be used to mean “more rare,” such that some mild sort of unique means the same thing as “similar to not many things.” But something can be more unique insofar as its difference from anything else is taken to a more extreme degree. Objects have multiple properties and something is unique to the extent that at least one of its properties is not shared by anything else (or to the extent that its combination of properties has only one property different from anything else with all other properties identical). It is more unique to the extent that it has more properties that are different from everything else. Suppose, for example, that we are considering a set of blue boxes with one red box. The red box is unique (within that set). Now suppose we change the red box into a red sphere. Then it’s more unique than it was as a box, because it has a greater number of unique properties.

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