The reference books on my desk are probably another clue:
In case you can't read the spines, the books pictured are (from left to right):
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary;
The American Heritage Dictionary;
Words into Type;
The Chicago Manual of Style;
The Modern Rhyming Dictionary;
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations;
The Little, Brown Handbook of Grammar;
Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus;
Strunk & White's The Elements of Style; and
20,001 Names for Baby (I use it for naming characters).
Not pictured but often consulted is Fowler's Modern English Usage; I keep that one by my bed.
I'm afraid I'm not kidding.
I'm trying something new here at Novembrance for the next few Fridays: I'm going to write a piece each week on a little-understood, much-abused rule of grammar or usage. I might toss in some punctuation or spelling advice just for spice. I'll try to keep the posts brief and entertaining, and we'll see how it goes.
Disclaimer 1: Since I heart grammar, it's possible that you and I have different ideas of what constitutes entertainment.
Disclaimer 2: I sometimes break the rules. In fact, I've broken several rules of formal written English already in this post. Usually I do it consciously for various creative reasons, but sometimes things slip by me. I'm not setting myself up as any sort of infallible authority, even though one of Patrick's pet names for me is "The Grammar Fascista."
Disclaimer 3: The rules of written English differ slightly depending on the field in which one is writing. For example, the rules of the Modern Language Association (MLA) govern the world of academia, while the Chicago Manual of Style and Words Into Type are large and in charge in the world of mainstream publishing. The latter arena will be my focus here. I haven't written a term paper in years, so when you need the nitpicky details of academese and its particular shibboleths, ask someone else.
Now that we have all that out of the way, here's a little snippet of usage goodness to kick things off.
The word 'unique' means "being the only one of its kind...without equal or equivalent; unparalleled."
In other words, 'unique' is an incomparable; either something is unique, or it isn't. If you don't believe me, go ask Stephen King. 'Unique' should never be modified with adverbs such as 'very,' 'more,' or 'so.' (Fowler says 'unique' can tolerate a very few adverbs, 'almost,' 'nearly,' and 'perhaps' being the best examples. But Fowler was a pro; my advice to you is to err on the side of caution and don't modify it at all.)
Bad usage: "Her hairstyle is totally unique."
Good usage: "Her hairstyle is unique," or "Her hairstyle is very unusual."
There you have it. Tune in next Friday for another installment from the Fascista (but I'll be around here plenty in the meantime, so don't be a stranger).