unique from

Come across on the net a while back:

The 36th Street station in Brooklyn has one tiny flaw that sets it apart from all the other subway stations in the city: One of its stairs “is a fraction of an inch higher” than the rest. (link)

No problem there. But the accompanying video has the caption:

Something that makes it unique from any other subway station in the city.

And to my surprise, “makes it unique from” gets thousands of raw ghits, as do other predicative uses of unique from ‘different / distinct / distinguished / separate from’. So unique (with its semantics of separation or distinction) has, for some speakers, picked up the syntax of different — in more than this respect, it turns out.

A few more attestations of predicative unique from:

Introduction to Google+: What makes it unique from Facebook (link)

What makes each American state unique from others? (link)

Bio-X Protein Fusion – What Makes It Unique From Other Protein Products? (link)

Jay Patel: It’s unique from most shows … They’ll give comic relief to the audience. (link)

“Ultimate has the athleticism of basketball, running of soccer and aerial assault of football all combined into one. It’s unique from any other sport out there.” (link)

The unique ID on any SharePoint is a GUID, a “Guaranteed Unique ID”, which identifies the item as unique from anything else in the system. (link)

Hyper-dispensationalism (or ultra-dispensationalism or more rarely “Bullingerism”) is a niche Protestant doctrine that views the teachings of the Apostle Paul both as unique from earlier apostles and as foundational for the church… (link)

Unique from can be compared, in the same way that different  from and distinct from can:

“it’s more unique from other schools and most people aren’t used to playing there… (link)

I’m doing a poster but I don’t know what to do with it so it’s more unique from everyone else. (link)

Hey, the reason I wanted people to know about this magazine is because it’s more unique from Rue-Morgue or Fangoria. (link)

Now: what sets different apart from other adjectives of difference and separation is its ability to occur, in colloquial English, with the preposition than (as well as from); the usage is widespread. and venerable, though disparaged by some critics (MWDEU has a good article on it). In any case, unique has now followed different for some speakers:

What about your family makes it unique than any other? (link)

hi everybody, would like to the good things about BU dental school? anything which makes it unique than other dental schools? (link)

I think the best part of the show is the blind auditions because it’s unique than any other shows. (link)

Definitely check out this place! It’s unique than any other sandwich in Huntsville! (link)

(Unique than was noted and discussed by Barbara Partee in a Language Log posting on special than.)

These developments are another case of extension in argument structure possibilities on the basis of semantics — similar to, for instance, the extension of donate to the Double Object construction, picking up some of the syntax of give on the basis of their shared semantics:

I donated the church a great deal of money. ‘I gave the church a great deal of money, I gave / donated a great deal of money to the church’

8 Responses to “unique from”

  1. Jim Adcock Says:

    “Unique than” sounds _really_ odd to me. Maybe used in “more unique than” wouldbe ok, but really? “More unique than”? “Unique” is an absolute, a one-of-a-kind. “Rare” or “unusual” could be “more” or “less”, but I don’t believe “unique” could be “more” or “less”… you either are or you aren’t unique.

    “Unique from” limits the range of things you are comparing the unique thing to… it can be the same as objects ont in consideration, but completely unlike anything in the comparison group (or it has a characteristic that differentiates it from the other objects).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ok, this is a complaint about how unique works, which has been the subject of a pile of writing. I was putting that aside, granting that a great many people treat the word as gradable and others think doing so is the Devil incarnate; the question I was looking at is its syntax.

  2. Ellen Says:

    Y’know, I try really hard not to be a prescriptivist. (On the one hand: hard, because I edit documents professionally. On the other: I have an academic background in linguistics and have dabbled in philology for thirty years and yes, I know better.)

    But “unique from” and — worse — “unique than” are just shudder-inducing. Sigh.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      As I’ve said to others about this issue, I bristle at both usages. But here I’m just reporting on what people say, not recommending it. (These usages might, or might likely not, be the wave of the future. They’re straightforwardly non-standard, but they’re there.)

  3. The Ridger Says:

    So, what would you like? “Unique among” is what I’d probably say, but “unique from” really doesn’t bother me.

    (And if you see a white zebra with gold stripes and say “that’s unique”, but then a crystalline lilac zebra each stripe of which is a different iridescent shade, whose hooves are diamonds and whose eyes are lapis … well, I’d have to say it was “more unique” than the first.)

    • Julian C. Lander Says:

      Alas, no, it can’t be more unique, if you’re going to be strict about it. Each is unique. The second may be more remarkable, or even further from the norm. (I wanted to go with more unusual, but two unique instances within the same class are probably equally unsual.) My question, which is not linguistic but relates to biology, is whether all zebras are unique in the sense that patterns of stripes are like fingerprints, with no two distinct zebras having the same stripe pattern.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        The insistence that unique must be an absolute adjective and cannot be used as a gradable adjective has a long history — see extended discussion in MWDEU — but contradicts long-standing usage. I’ll grant that the word has a “strict” sense in mathematics, but in ordinary language an extended sense has been in use for, oh, 150 years or so.

  4. Geoff Says:

    I just tripped over “unique from” in the Android documentation, and, like you, just had to find out how common this is. Glad I found your blog! They meant “distinct from”.


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