Another Absolute

rogersgeorge on March 4th, 2017

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

One for Two

rogersgeorge on August 21st, 2016

These folks had two chances to get some tricky wording correct. They got one of them right, anyway. Here’s the sentence, from a gizmag oops New Atlas architecture article:

Comprising 60,000 unique aluminum parts stacked into 31 layers, this incredibly complicated structure was inspired by scientific research into the health of honeybees and the role they play as pollinators.

Before you read the bullets, see if you can identify the two tricky words, and which one is used correctly.

Done? Okay, there they are.

  • Correct: comprise. I’ve mentioned this word often enough that if you’re a regular reader, you already know how to use this word. The pattern is the whole comprises its parts. And you never say “is comprised of.”
  • Incorrect: unique. Especially in a technical article, “unique” should mean “one of a kind,” not “unusual” or “interesting.” Judging from the sentence, 60,000 is hardly one of a kind, and judging from the picture, I see a lot of duplication, even if they aren’t all 60,000 of them the same. Still “interesting” does apply, I think.

The Hive is comprised of 60,000 unique aluminum parts stacked into 31 layers

Another Vacation Post

rogersgeorge on June 19th, 2016

I’m thankful that comic artists are, by and large, good at English. And sometimes they even write comics about grammar! Makes it easy for me to plop something down when I’m busy doing other stuff.

So here you go. It’s an Arctic Circle from July of 2013:

This happens to be one of my favorite things to complain about, too.

Informal vs Correct

rogersgeorge on March 21st, 2016

This site promulgates accurate, easy-to-read writing. I call it expository writing. You use it when you want to explain something and be understood.

If you want to fit in with that stylish gum-chewing valley girl, then stylish imprecise language is fine. But you won’t impress people who prefer otherwise. (I admit, that includes a lot of people whom you might not want to impress.)

This Dustin strip from October of 2013, features two popular solecisms that we curmudgeons like to grumble about, or laugh at.



Why are we against these common usages? They’re okay in informal spoken English, but they don’t belong in the type of writing you use when you don’t want to distract your reader from the topic at hand.

  • “Unique” means “one of a kind,” which is an absolute. If you want to emphasize that uniqueness, try a word that admits of degrees, such as “special,” or maybe “unusual,” or even “I never saw anything like that!”
  • “[personal pronoun] could care less” is sarcasm, in which you say the opposite of what you mean. You definitely don’t want that when you want to explain something!

Or say “hi” to that valley girl for me.



Linguistic absolutes

rogersgeorge on January 14th, 2014

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.”