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The difference between 'one-off' and 'one of a kind'


The expression 'one off' is not a one of a kind expression.

This week on That's What They Say, host Rina Miller and University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan inquire about the concept of 'one off' and its origins.

According to Curzan, 'one off' first shows up in 1934, and it means 'made or done as only one of its kind', and it's not repeated - it's a one-off product, a one-off event. Its origins are British, but has been in use in American English since the 1980s.

Curzan further explains that 'one-off' is not meant to be confused with 'one of a kind', which is generally used to refer to products. On the other hand, 'one-off' is also used to refer to an event or an opportunity, such as a 'one-off event' or a 'one-off opportunity'. 'One of a kind' can also be used in a positively ambiguous sense, especially when referring to an individual.

Another word that is commonly used is 'unique'. Curzan elaborates that in theory, the word 'unique' is usually synonymous with 'one of a kind', usually indicating that there is only one. For a good number of speakers, 'unique' usually means remarkable or very unusual.

Have any of the following words or expressions baffled you? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Omar Saadeh - Michigan Radio Newsroom

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
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