Saturday, December 03, 2022

MLP: Not a one-off

| May 19, 2022 1:00 AM

Your Mrs. Language Person is apparently taking requests. The Snitty Old Biddy typically chooses her times and topics, but when a reader asked whether one should say “graduated from” or simply “graduated,” she was uncharacteristically obliging.

Will wonders never cease. Pigs will fly.

Tuesday’s responsive column, Dear Readers, was not a one-off. Shall we say it was one of? So asks reader Paul Dunster.

Dunster, clearly a hot rod fan and suspected speed demon, noticed some decades ago that the phrase “one of a kind,” employed in classified ads to describe “unique or special” used cars, became shortened to “one of.”

Next, he writes to his chagrin, this abbreviated term morphed into “one off.”

‘Tisn’t right. ‘Tisn’t proper. One of a kind is the accurate choice.

‘Tis true, says Cambridge Dictionaries. A “one-off” is something which happened (or was produced) only once. That’s not quite the same as the self-descriptive “one of a kind.”

The former denotes action. The latter functions, essentially, as an adjective with no reference to action.

Two different things. Two different phrases, each rightfully persisting today, if we don’t abuse them. (Poor, sad little words. So often is English misused and abused! Shredded to tatters in today’s lackadaisical, text-speak world! Sniff.)

Consider this: A certain hot rod may have not been a one-off; there may have been thousands made by the manufacturer. However, a collector may buy one and add do-hickeys and gee-gaws. Thingamajigs.

Then it becomes one of a kind.

In a 2014 interview on Michigan Public Radio, University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan explained it thus:

“'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.

“’One-off' is not meant to be confused with 'one of a kind,' which is generally used to refer to products … 'One-off' is also used to refer to an event or an opportunity.”

Well, Dear Readers, MLP hopes this clears things up. This topic is certainly a one-off for MLP. Do allow her the occasional rest, if you please. She’s persnickety enough as it is.

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Email

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