The other day on Jeopardy, this answer was put up for the contestants to supply the question, “Sorry, language nerds, but the OED says you really can use modifiers like ‘more’ with this word.” The question was, “What is ‘unique’?” If I’d known it was okay to say “more unique” I’d have changed some things in my current book, now scheduled for release by DeWard Publishing on August 1.
The whole point of Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality is Jesus’ uniqueness and what it means for his place in history and in our lives. Throughout the book I kept wanting to say he’s more unique. But I’d been trained to think that was wrong, that you couldn’t say, “more unique.” Now I know better. So with this blog post I’m claiming language-nerd permission for all the future posts in which I’m going to speak of how amazingly more unique Jesus is.
“More Unique” Means…
The old rule was what it was for a reason. Unique means one-of-a-kind, and strictly speaking, one-of-a-kind just is one-of-a-kind. You can’t be more one-of-a-kind than one of that kind. Logically speaking, that’s absolutely correct. But is it not still possible to communicate something meaningful with “more unique”? I think it is. Apparently the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) thinks so, too.
You could be one of a more unique kind, for example. Say you’re in a college English class discussing the word unique. You look around the room, and you realize you’re the only man with a mustache and no beard. That’s makes you unique in that respect; but what if the man sitting next to you has a beard a full foot long? He’s unique in a more unique respect.
You could say “more unique” if someone’s uniqueness is more salient or remarkable. If you measured everyone carefully enough in that classroom, I’m sure you’d find that they all stand at unique heights. But the woman who’s unique for being the only one standing exactly 5 feet, 6.273 inches tall will be less noticeably unique in that setting than another woman of whom one only need say, “She’s over 6 feet tall.” And if the taller woman is more noticeably unique, it seems acceptable simply to say she’s more unique.
Language nerds are cringing. (You know who you are — including some great friends of mine.) I keep saying “more unique”!
Sorry, but it’s time to start getting used to it. The OED says it’s okay. Or at least Jeopardy says the OED says so, and that’s good enough for me.
Or (it seems to me) you could say “more unique” of someone who’s noticeably unique in more ways, across more dimensions. Say you’re a student here from Thailand, you’re a member of the royal family back home, and everyone else in that English class was born in the U.S. You’re definitely unique in the classroom, in at least a couple interesting respects. But suppose there’s another class next door with only one foreign national in the room, and this one’s not only a royal family member in her home country, she’s also a political exile, an amputee due to injuries from the war that forced her out of her country — and she’s the professor teaching the class. Sorry, but as a foreign national, she’s more unique than you!
Jesus is the Most Unique
Jesus is more unique than anyone in history. He’s unique in more spectacular ways, and he’s unique across more dimensions. And here’s the fun part: I grew up as a Christian knowing he was unique. I read Bill Bright’s booklet The Uniqueness of Jesus, and I agreed Jesus was the only religious leader who even claimed to be God in the flesh, born of a virgin, resurrected from the dead. I knew that the religion he founded was the only one that offered a way to God through grace rather than human effort. There was more in that booklet besides, of course.
So yes, I knew Jesus was unique, but lately I’ve discovered he’s far more unique than I knew. His story is unique, and his character as the protagonist is incredibly unique. Atheists may say, “strip away the supernatural claims from the Jesus story, and you’re left with a fairly ordinary rabbi.” But in Too Good To Be False, I show that Jesus’ uniqueness covers far more dimensions than even his miracles, and in fact too many to explain in the skeptics’ usual ways. Not just his miracles but his very character is too good, too consistent, and yes, too unique to be legend.
I’ll even go so far as to say that Too Good To Be False is unique (though on a far lesser scale than I’ve just been discussing). There have been other books looking at Jesus this way, but only one in the last 140 years or so, and that one is in the 1920s.
I don’t know why this way of viewing Jesus disappeared from view for so long, but it’s time to see him again as he is: The greatest and most unique man in all history, and even all literature. It’s time to see the difference his uniqueness makes. I won’t go into all his uniqueness here now, though I’ll be previewing some of it between now and when Too Good To Be False comes out. It should be available by August 1.