Sunday, April 24, 2011

U is for Unique

Somewhere in grade school, I learned that some adjectives are not subject to comparison. Unique means one of a kind, so if you and I are both unique, you cannot be more or less unique than I. People often take unique to mean unusual.

A couple other examples are anniversary and desperate. How often do we hear of the one-month or six-month or the one-year anniversary of an event? However, an anniversary by definition is an annual event. And desperate, I learned, means without hope. We will conduct a desperate search for survivors, by which we mean anxiety-filled. If it were literally a desperate search, then hope would be gone and the search pointless.

Oh yes, literally is another one. We may say we were literally blown away, but that's not likely to be true except in a tornado or on a battlefield. Okay, no one is going to say "I was figuratively blown away," but I would be literally delighted to hear it.

Language evolves, in part with careless usage by local TV news announcers. Words mean what people want them to mean, and then one day the dictionary accommodates the changing usage.


Robyn Campbell said...

Love this post. Language does evolve and words do mean what people want them to mean, but that is NOT good for the youth that are in school. I hear a lot of school kids have trouble writing. Where does that leave the US?

Thanks for the visit and comment over at my place. :-)

Marie Rearden said...

Thanks for visiting my blog through the A to Z. I really enjoyed this post. The literally/figuratively debate is pretty common. The show How I Met Your Mother did a hilarious scene on one of the characters misusing it over and over.

Marie at the Cheetah

Michelle Mach said...

What great examples! I know that I'm guilty, especially in my speech. I'm a little less likely to literally blow others away by my poor use of language when I write. :)

Jan Morrison said...

Bob - I'm so with you on this! I appreciate the quirkiness of English while cringing from some of the misunderstandings. You and I both delved into the meanings of words with our posts today!
Jan Morrison

Patricia Lynne said...

Interesting post. Kinda funny how words mean one thing but we say them with a different meaning.