I had to laugh at this one — and share it with you.
If you surf the News from WENN items on imdb.com — not a bad source for celeb gossip — you may enjoy reading an item dated Dec. 17 on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt settling down in France, a la Johnny Depp. But beware of the lead sentence, which says Jolie and Pitt are doing this “because their family need a permanent base for a while.”
First, “family,” though it signifies a group, is a singular noun, like team, not a plural, like families or teams. So it should be “family needs.” And then there’s this doozy — the quite amusing assertion that the couple is seeking “a permanent base for a while.”
Permanent is permanent, just as unique is unique. There are no degrees of permanence, and certainly it never signifies a transient state that’s going to be just “for a while.” Similarly, “unique” means one of a kind, and has no variations or degrees. Your fingerprints are unique. Each snowflake is supposedly unique. But nothing is “very unique,” which you often hear, as if something can be more one-of-a-kind than another thing can be one-of-a-kind.
What’s needed here, from all of us, is to beware of words that are absolutes, because often we mean something else. “Permanent” and “unique” are absolutes, with no degrees or shades of gray.
The WENN item could have said Jolie and Pitt are seeking a lasting, ongoing, steady, regular, stable or otherwise consistent base “for a while.” But if it’s a permanent base, it’s not “for a while.” It’s for good — forever.
Similarly, instead of claiming that something — say, a film — is “very unique,” it could be called “very distinctive,” “very unusual” or simply “singular.” Technically, all films are unique, in that each has different material. But the meaning in claims of uniqueness is usually flattery, in the sense that a film stands out from the rest. So it’s not just another film — it’s a highly distinctive one.
There — I feel better. I know it’s not a big deal in itself, but the slow slide toward illiteracy in this world is made worse when it’s perpetuated by mass media, which should know better. Words have very clear and definite meanings. Words are precious communications tools. Words matter. And if we continually muddy the waters of their meaning, we’re not truly communicating.
Thanks, now I’m going back to surfing the Internet — but not permanently. No, just for a while.