February 7, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: unique, reveal/show

Posted in reveal/show, unique at 8:16 pm by dlseltzer

Today’s first tip relates to “unique.” There are no degrees of uniqueness. Unique is a dichotomous state; something is either unique or not. Something cannot be “very unique” or “more unique” or “less unique” or “most unique” or “least unique.” (I confess, however, that I believe someone can be very pregnant–just look at some of our junior faculty!)

What is wrong with the sentence below? How many mistakes can you find? (Answer at the end of the email.)

This proposal is very unique in that it examines all facets of an intervention designed to positively effect the quality of life (QoL) of patients that are living with an ongoing and serious chronic disease.

Our second tip comes from Derek Angus, a talented and prolific writer who knows the ins and outs of language. reveal vs. show

“Our results revealed ….” This is another cringer – ‘revealed’ is more than ‘showed,’ it suggests a mysteriousness and unusualness or other-worldliness. Poor ‘showed’ just seems to be too plain for many folks – but we are not writing Harry Potter novels. ‘Showed’ is an admirable workhorse and should be relied upon as such.



  1. armando said,

    I agree that “showed” is the way that science commonly presents its findings, but I think that there is a philosophical issue here that differentiates revealed and showed. For basic scientists using the word “showed” seems pretentious to me in many cases. For these investigations “nature” is as it is, so to speak. Or to use a phrase from the X Files, the truth is [already] out there, but needs to be discovered, that is, revealed. Thus, a basic scientist is “simply” revealing the truth as it exists, and has existed for millennia (in many cases) in nature. In this sense I think of reveal as less than show, and it is in this sense that I think the use of “show” can be a bit pretentious. Basic research reveals the truth. On the other hand, as an example, when dealing with intervention research, and I maybe splitting hairs here, my feeling is that “showed” is the proper word because the intervention did not exist prior to the research and thus the project showed that it was effective.

    Having said this, I do believe that revealed sounds awkward, but that may simply be because we (I at least) do not come across it in the literature.

  2. Matt said,

    I understand the difference between “reveal” and “show” in the above example. Yet again, one can say – or at least I do – without pointing to anything mystical: “This figure is quite revealing.”

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