With a title like that, you may expect me to rant about the terrible phrase ‘more unique,’ and why you should never use it. It’s one of those long-held orthodoxies about English that ‘more unique’ is illogical, because something is either unique, or it isn’t, and thus ‘more unique’ is nonsense. The same advice holds for absolutes like ‘perfect,’ ‘full,’ or ‘fatal’. (Various examples; [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_%28grammar%29), [Dr Grammar](http://www.drgrammar.org/faqs/#53), [Grammar Girl](http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/modifying-absolutes.aspx))
This isn’t true. There are times when you can use the phrase, and this post covers those situations.
Uniqueness describes how one thing in a group has a property exhibited by no other; ‘the only left-handed pupil in the class,’ or ‘the only green apple in the orchard.’ Uniqueness always exists within a set of things. In the preceding examples, pupils in a class or apples in an orchard. That set of things, however, may be part of a larger set. A class of pupils is part of a school, a district, and all the kids of the same age. Sets of apples may be found in baskets, orchards, or supermarkets.
When you move from comparing a small set to a larger set, you find that the rules of uniqueness change. Left-handedness may be unique in a class but not in a school. Blue eyes may be unique in a family of brown-eyed children, but red eyes may be unique within a much larger grouping (for example, from rare cases of [albinism](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albinism))
When you shift from a small set to a larger set, then, the rules of comparison change; in doing so, the phrase ‘more unique’ reflects a _new kind of uniqueness_ — uniqueness in the larger set. So it becomes reasonable, though not very stylish, to say;
> No-one in the family had blue eyes except John, but Jane’s more unique red eyes entranced him.
> Every child in the race had already won the blue ribbon for being the fastest in their class, but now they were competing for the prestigious and far more unique Flanders Cup, awarded to the fastest of the fast.
So, in summary; if the set changes from a small to a large, ‘more unique’ makes logical sense, and means ‘unique within the larger set.’
Of course, the main reason to challenge any orthodoxy is when it impedes eloquence. While [Truth is beauty and beauty truth](http://englishhistory.net/keats/poetry/odeonagrecianurn.html), _beauty should always be allowed to win_. Otherwise we would never have this;
> We the People of the United States, in Order to form a [more perfect Union](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preamble_to_the_United_States_Constitution), establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Which is a glorious sentence. Fie upon those who would have us write ‘in Order to form a better union.’
I may tackle other orthodoxies in the future. Stay tuned.