Absolutes are concepts that either are or aren’t—no middle ground. Perhaps the most well known use of an absolute is a quip, “she’s a little bit pregnant.” Pregnancy is a thing where either you are or you aren’t. I mentioned an absolute, unique, some time ago. Here’s another that I just ran into. Misused in the example, of course:
And second, this engine might one day push spacecraft to velocities sufficient enough to open the Solar System to human exploration.
The article, from Ars Technica, is pretty interesting, about a new type of rocket engine. (Go to the article to find out what the first thing is.) Sufficient is an absolute. Something is either sufficient or it isn’t. You can say something like “almost sufficient,” but that’s the same as “not sufficient.” So the phrase “sufficient enough” is a solecism. Don’t use it.
That earlier post, about absolutes, mentions several others. Words that are absolutes might be tricky, but they aren’t unique!
Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed
Some words you’re not supposed to modify. These words are absolutes.
My favorite is “unique.” It means one of a kind, period. People use it to mean “interesting,” which admits of degrees. Your amount of interest can vary, but being one of a kind is exactly that, so something can’t be very unique. This guy is a scientist, but he’s not a grammar geek.
The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
I got this from an article in The Daily Galaxy back in June.
A few more absolutes: touching, contact, countable, complete. All these either are or aren’t. Can you add to the list?
I thought of a word that maybe you can modify an absolute with: almost. Though really, when you say “almost” referring to an absolute, you mean “not.”