July 9th, 2008
Unique on the Internet / past tense of weed eat / cupsful or cupfuls
by Barbara Wallraff
Donna Brown, of Tivoli, N.Y., writes: “I was telling a friend about selling items on eBay. As an example, I told her I’d had ‘11 bids from six unique bidders.’ She took me to task on the use of the word ‘unique,’ saying she did not understand its use in that context and asking where I had gotten it. Was I wrong?”
Dear Donna: Poor “unique.” Some of us can’t let go of the idea that it’s supposed to mean “one of a kind” or “the only,” and not just “unusual” or “special,” as others seem to think. Now folks who do something called Web analytics for a living have come up with a whole new meaning, which you’ve illustrated.
Mary Schrick, of Edmond, Okla., writes: “What is the past tense of ‘to weed eat’?”
Dear Mary: If you asked the lawyers for Electrolux, which owns the Weed Eater brand, they’d probably tell you there is no such verb as “weed eat,” so the past tense doesn’t exist. Weed Eater is a trademark -- like, for instance, Xerox and Google. Therefore, to avoid offending legal sensibilities, we mustn’t say, “I xeroxed it” or “I googled myself.” Instead, we should say, “I photocopied it,” “I used the Google search engine to find online references to myself” -- and “I trimmed the yard with the Weed Eater.”
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Dear Valerie: It’s true that we might have “cups full” of coffee or “hands full” of books, in which case our focus would be the cups and hands. But if you’re thinking of quantities of coffee or books, those are “cupfuls” and “handfuls.” I think you misremembered the rule.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.