Many commentators have objected to the comparison or modification (as by somewhat or very) of unique, often asserting that a thing is either unique or it is not. Objections are based chiefly on the assumption that unique has but a single absolute sense, an assumption contradicted by information readily available in a dictionary. Unique dates back to the 17th century but was little used until the end of the 18th when, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was reacquired from French. H. J. Todd entered it as a foreign word in his edition (1818) of Johnson's Dictionary, characterizing it as “affected and useless.” Around the middle of the 19th century it ceased to be considered foreign and came into considerable popular use. With popular use came a broadening of application beyond the original two meanings (here numbered 1 and 2a). In modern use both comparison and modification are widespread and standard but are confined to the extended senses 2b and 3. When sense 1 or sense 2a is intended, unique is used without qualifying modifiers.
She's in the unique position of running for office against her husband.
Humans are unique among mammals in several respects.
There are no clear blueprints to be discovered in history that can help us shape the future as we wish. Each historical event is a unique congeries of factors, people, or chronology. —Margaret McMillan, Dangerous Games, 2008
[Tiger] Wood's unique skill set was on display again at last week's U.S. Open, but this victory was more visceral. It was all heart. —Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated, 23 June 2008
Space is a strange and unique item—you can't take it to a lab and analyze it like beef jerky. —Bob Berman, Astronomy, November 2007
A century ago a doctor was considered to be part of a social elite. He—and medicine was then very much a masculine endeavor—had a unique mastery of a special body of knowledge. He professed a commitment to levels of competence and integrity that he expected society to respect and trust. —Richard Horton, New York Review of Books, 31 May 2007
Most stars are not born in isolation but instead in groups of several thousand to tens of thousands, all of which emerge from the same parent cloud of gas. Each cloud has a unique and homogeneous mix of chemical elements and isotopes, which its stellar progeny inherits. Even when the stars disperse, they retain their unique chemical tag … —Rodrigo Ibata et al., Scientific American, April 2007
As a dozen new books will testify, our nation is in the midst of a great barbecue renaissance, with each region proudly claiming its own unique style. —Ruth Reichl, Gourmet, July 2005