John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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A very unique post

I was listening to Morning Edition this morning, and I heard Steve Inskeep read a letter a voice mail from an irate listener who was outraged—outraged, I say!—that some NPR reporter had described something as "very unique," because "unique" means one of a kind and that adding an intensifier to it is just plain wrong and that the person who had said it was a grade A moron who must have been graduated from Bovine University. Or something like that.

(Correction: It wasn;t Steve Inskeep reading an e-mail; it was a voice mail, wWhich can be heard here, about three minutes in. It's sort of fun to hear; the gentleman making the complaint sounds exactly like you would expect the kind of self-satisfied, cleverer-than-thou nerd who would be inspired to leave a voice mail about something so trivial to sound.)

Anyway, that brought to mind a conversation I had with Lori the other day, when I said that some infinities are smaller than others. She sort of looked at me funny and asked if this was one of those half the distance things again. (One of the many reasons I love Lori: I mentioned the "half the distance thing" six months ago.) I explained the concept to her by asking her to consider the set of positive integers, and then the set of all positive even integers. Both are infinite sets, I said, but the latter is by definition half the size of the the former. She thought about that for a moment and pronounced it "weird." Which it is.

Getting back to subject at hand, it seems to me that if we can have multiple infinities of various sizes, then we can certainly have things that are more unique than other unique things. It just depends on the context. There's a guy with whom I work whose name is Dave. His is a unique name within our store, but not within the company as a whole; there's another Dave in our Leesburg store, and probably dozens of others elsewhere. But then there's Ayana, who could very well be the only person so named in the entire company. So her name is more unique than Dave's, just like the infinity of prime numbers is smaller than the infinity of numbers evenly divisible by three.

So mote it be. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that you can use an intensifier with the word "unique." If anyone calls you on it, just tell 'em I said it was OK.

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