Very unique, and other misuses of the English Language

Posted on December 13, 2006. Filed under: Blog--All categories, Management development |

I was listening to Joe Hart on Reno’s KRNV News 4 last night and heard him say, “One donor had a very unique way of delivering turkeys.” Okay, to me hearing things like “very unique” causes the same reaction as others get when they hear finger nails on a chalk board. Yup, wow!

Now, I know Joe is reading what the show’s producers have written for him and placed on the prompter. I know this because I’ve been in the television studio as a guest on one of the news programs. I know the pace at which news is being delivered to the newscasters and that they don’t have time to course-correct when they see wording like this on the prompter. But here’s the problem: people in the viewing audience assume the problem is Joe’s since he’s the one delivering the news and is the news expert.

So, because of a producer’s error Joe’s credibility is damaged–and his skills are seen as less than expert.

Joe isn’t the only one in the media who falls into this trap. I’m amazed at the number of locally produced commercials that contain all sorts of grammatical problems. For instance, how many times do you hear “I” used in place of “me”? Wow! All the time in local productions. (If you need some help understanding just what problem I’m referring to, click on the Articles link and read my article “Me, Myself, and I.”)

As a manager or leader, the team you want to lead is watching your every move. Scary, isn’t it? But it’s true. And there are members of your team who know how language is supposed to be used and will catch these sorts of faux pas. When you make a language usage mistake and they catch it, they might not tell you they caught it; but your credibility will decrease in their eyes. And it’s very difficult to lead a team when the team doesn’t believe you are qualified as a leader.

Am I over the top here in terms of emphasizing the consequences of using the language incorrectly? Some of you will say yes. Others of you–who understand how language is used and can catch inconsistencies–will agree with me whole heartedly. And for people like you, it’s just down right fun to catch mistakes on the radio and TV!

In case you don’t know the problem with using the phrase “very unique,” here’s a quick lesson: “Unique” means one of a kind, no other like it. When someone puts the adjective “very” (meaning “absolute or complete”) in front of unique, they are in essence saying something is “completely one of a kind, absolutely no other like it.” If something is one of a kind and has no equal, how can it be even more that? Impossible! This is called redundant writing–and is just plain wrong.


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