1. This is one of a handful of words that give rise to strong feelings. Its primary meaning is ‘having no like or equal, peculiar to an individual’:

• Throughout these fluctuations of fortune, Edith's unique teaching style was getting more finely honed —Medau News, 1986.

In this meaning it is regarded (like perfect) as absolute in sense, i.e. something or someone is either unique or not unique; they cannot be described as very unique or more unique or rather unique. (On the other hand, it is possible to be nearly or almost or perhaps unique just as it is to be nearly or almost or perhaps perfect.) This objection is philosophical rather than linguistic, and grammar caters for the logically impossible as readily as it does for the patently true. And is it not at least arguable that a person with three heads is more unique than a person with only two? Or than a person with twelve fingers?
2. The word is derived via French from the Latin word unicus meaning ‘single, sole’ and retained close links with its roots down to the 19c, when it broke loose and became conceptually an English word, marking its independence with a developed meaning that is now the controversial one, i.e ‘unusual, remarkable’. This sense is regarded as ‘gradable’ and is regularly qualified by very and other intensifying adverbs:

• Some design choices become so unique that they border on the eccentric and make a property difficult to sell —Chicago Tribune, 1995

• I imagine that would be a fairly unique experience for you —film review website, BrE 2004.

3. Its adoption in unconvincing contexts by the world of advertising and marketing, which offers unique advantages, challenges, features, flavours, insights, opportunities, and so on, and spins meaningless slogans such as Hollywood's unique night life and a unique blend of Scottish heather honey and rare old malt whisky, has done much to discredit this meaning, which is a natural one. Indeed, as so often with this type of sense development, meanings that are conventionally distinguished often shade into one another, and it is difficult to apply rules in the border areas of usage:

• All these diverse atmospheres merge together beautifully to create a most delightful and unique East Lindsey market town —P. Furlong, 1989

• Gavrilov was the outright winner of Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition where jury and audience alike were bowled over by his flame-throwing technique, by the unique drive and physicality of his playing —Gramophone, 1992.

4. Meanwhile unique continues to be used in its primary meaning, often followed by the preposition to which identifies the object of uniqueness; an achievement or feat can be unique, so can an identifying number (which often has to be), and so can a method or technique:

• Tuck stitch is one of those fabrics that almost all machine knitters recognise at once, it is so unique in its formation —Machine Knitting Monthly, 1992

• Few dishes are unique to Jordan; one unique dish is mansaf, chunks of stewed lamb in a yogurt-based sauce served with rice —World Cultures, AmE 2004 [OEC].

5. Because unique is itself ‘unique’ in its primary meaning this will continue to be used, and it is more common than the strength of opposition to the weakened meaning might lead us to believe. But precise meanings are always vulnerable to drift, and in this case we are seeing a weakening of strength (as has happened to analogous words such as peculiar and similar), rather than the emergence of a distinct new meaning. If a rule is needed, prudence suggests that the weakened meaning should be used sparingly. In informal and conversational language, however, a broader range of meaning is permissible.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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  • unique — [ ynik ] adj. • 1480; lat. unicus, de unus « un » I ♦ (Sens quantitatif) 1 ♦ (Avant ou après le nom) Qui est un seul, n est pas accompagné d autres du même genre. REM. Unique a plus de force placé après le nom; il ne peut alors être remplacé par… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • unique — Unique. adj. de tout genre. Seul. Fils unique, frere unique du Roy. unique heritier. le phenix est unique en son espece. vous estes l unique de ce sentiment là. on ne trouve plus ce livre, j en ay l unique exemplaire qui reste. la charge de… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Unique II — Unique II, vorher Unique 2, war ein österreichisches Eurodanceprojekt, das in den 1990er Jahren mit der Coverversion zu Break My Stride von Matthew Wilder auch international große Erfolge feiern konnte. Unique II wurde 1992 von den beiden… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • unique — UK US /juːˈniːk/ adjective ► something that is unique is unusual or the only one of its type: »Fast growing companies are in a unique position to attract the best candidates. »Over the past 15 years, she has made a unique contribution to the… …   Financial and business terms

  • Unique 2 — Unique II, vorher Unique 2, war ein österreichisches Eurodanceprojekt, das in den 1990er Jahren mit der Coverversion zu Break My Stride von Matthew Wilder auch international große Erfolge feiern konnte. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Geschichte 2… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Unique — steht für: Jenaer Studierenden Zeitschrift mit den Schwerpunkten Interkulturalität und Politik, siehe Unique (Zeitschrift) ehemaliger Name der Betreibergesellschaft des Flughafens Zürich,siehe Flughafen Zürich AG Unique (Cyclecar), britische… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • unique — unique·ly; unique·ness; bi·unique; unique; …   English syllables

  • unique — [yo͞o nēk′] adj. [Fr < L unicus, single < unus,ONE] 1. one and only; single; sole [a unique specimen] 2. having no like or equal; unparalleled [a unique achievement] 3. highly unusual, extraordinary, rare, etc.: a common usage still… …   English World dictionary

  • Unique — U*nique , a. [F. unique; cf. It. unico; from L. unicus, from unus one. See {One}.] Being without a like or equal; unmatched; unequaled; unparalleled; single in kind or excellence; sole. {U*nique ly}, adv. {U*nique ness}, n. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Unique — U*nique , n. A thing without a like; something unequaled or unparalleled. [R.] [1913 Webster] The phenix, the unique pf birds. De Quincey. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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