• sui generis
  • audio pronunciation
  • \soo-eye-JEN-uh-ris\
  • DEFINITION

adjective

: constituting a class alone : unique, peculiar
  • EXAMPLES

Among history's greats, Leonardo da Vinci is often considered sui generis—a man of such stupendous genius that the world may never see his like again.

"So let us celebrate the glory that was Elaine Stritch in her prime. For among modern entertainers she is sui generis." — From a review by Stephen Holden in the New York Times, April 4, 2013

  • DID YOU KNOW?

English contains many terms that ultimately trace back to the Latin forms "gener-" or "genus" (which are variously translated as "birth," "race," "kind," and "class"). Offspring of those roots include "general," "generate," "generous," "generic," "degenerate," and "gender." But "sui generis" is truly a one-of-a-kind "gener-" descendant that English speakers have used for singular things since the late 1600s. Its earliest uses were in scientific contexts, where it identified substances, principles, diseases, and even rocks that were unique or that seemed to be the only representative of their class or group. By the early 1900s, however, "sui generis" had expanded beyond solely scientific contexts, and it is now used more generally for anything that stands alone.

Test Your Memory: What word completes this sentence from a former Word of the Day piece: "The newspaper editor said that he would have to reduce the _________ of Earl's letter before he could publish it"? The answer is …

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