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7:07pm on Thursday, 21st August, 2008:

The Way the World Changes


This morning on GMTV, we were told: "find out where the top 10 most unique places in Britain are". Sure enough, later in the programme they had an interview with the Mayor of Bradford, in whose dominion the "most unique" place — Saltaire — is located.

They do this on GMTV the whole time: treat the word "unique" as if it described a continuous variable instead of a binary variable. Look, GMTV, there are not different degrees of uniqueness: either something is unique, or it's not unique — you can't have one thing be "more unique" than another, it's not a gradable quality. If you're use a comparative or a superlative, it's to make a telling or comical point ("all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others" — in other words, they're not equal at all).

Unless you're making such a point, don't try to grade binary adjectives. You can say that something is almost legal, but not that one thing is more legal than another; you can say that something was perfect, but not that it is now less perfect than it was; you can say that a die produces random numbers, but not that another die produces extremely random numbers.

None of this makes any difference to GMTV. They're just going to carry on the same as they ever did. People who watch it who don't know any better will follow suit, and before we know it, there won't be such a thing as a binary adjective any more.

Ways to change the world: Science, Faith, Education and ... Ignorance.

(And don't even get me started on those signs that say "use both lanes when queueing"...).

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).