sui generis

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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sui generis

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Feb 03, 2020 9:33 pm

<2020 “The U.S. is not the U.K. . . . and ‘ Bernie Sanders is not Jeremy Corbyn.” A humorless oddball dogged by persistent charges of anti-Semitism, Corbyn is personally unpopular . . . Corbryn is ‘sui generis’ . . . so is the Brexit morass.”—The Week, 27 December/10 January, page 6>
This is an expression that I occasionally run into and whose meaning I can never seem to remember (It's Greek to me! That shows what I know. :( ) and which I find hard to even guess at from the context. So perhaps if I do a posting maybe it will help me and others who may or may not be familiar with it and cement into their noggins. :D

sui generis adjective [[sometimes italicized, sometimes not]]: constituting a class alone, in a class of its own, a thing of its own kind: of his, her, or its own kind, one of a kind, unique, peculiar <possesses certain sui generis qualities>

May be used predicatively or postpositively <the man is sui generis> <a history book sui generis>

Synonyms: alone, lone, one, one-off, singular, sole, solitary, special, only, unique

Etymology: Borrowed from Latin. From suī (of its own) + generis, the genitive of genus (origin, kind, class). Literally meaning “of its own kind/class”.

First Known Use: 1694

(Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary,,

The following quotes are from The Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources:
<1963 “In this theory meaning is defined as a sui generis ‘reciprocal relation between name and sense, which enables them to call up one another’.”—Structural Semantics by J. Lyons, i. page 2>

<1977 “The superlative interpretations by the sui generis Budapest Quartet come from tapes of live performances at the Library of Congress in 1959 and 1961.”—Time Magazine (New York), 4 April, page 41/3>

<1995 “The building, which was completed in 1926, is sui generis. Parts of it are modeled on a 15th Century Italian monastery while the rest combines elements of a number of Renaissance palaces.”—Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), 23 July, page 166>

<2011 “Now, some people defy comparison. I believe firmly, for example, that Dennis Johnson was completely sui generis. No NBA person ever–ever!–says, ‘this kid reminds me of Dennis Johnson.’”—The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), 30 January, page C11>

<2016 “Yet in a number of respects Assemble [[an art collective]] is sui generis, suggesting a new and ever-shifting model for socially engaged art practice.”—The Los Angeles Times, 1 May, page F6>

<2018 “Further, I suspect you’ll find few Republican veterans seeking office who would criticize the commander in chief. One notable exception, of course, was McCain – a maverick to the last. He was sui generis and his seat would be hard for anyone to fill.”—Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), 22 December, page A7>

<2019 “The two dozen essays of ‘Human Relations’ are culled from five decades of work . . . There are essays on the vapidity of novel reviewing . . . and on a sui generis one-volume encyclopedia . . . a volume from which Wilmers teases one astonishing detail after another.”—New York Times Magazine, 27 October, page 33>

Ken Greenwald – February 3, 2020

Re: sui generis

Post by Phil White » Mon Feb 03, 2020 10:29 pm

Hi Ken. Thanks for this post. It gives me the opportunity for a good rant!

There are few Latin or Latin-derived expressions that annoy me more than this one. There are plenty of Latin expressions that neatly fill a void in the English language, that represent a concise expression of a concept and that have a justifiable place in the language.

Sui generis is not one of them. There are plenty of more eloquent and interesting turns of phrase that capture the same essence. Indeed, there are also entirely prosaic expressions that are perfectly adequate to express the meaning.

"Corbyn was entirely unique."
"Corbyn was one of a kind."
"Corbyn was a maverick."

Quite apart from the fact that it is a platitude to claim that any politician of note is "sui generis" (they all are, otherwise they would not be noteworthy), it is simply pretentious (and lazy) to use "sui generis".

Of course, that is only my humble opinion.
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: sui generis

Post by trolley » Mon Feb 03, 2020 11:08 pm

We are unique, just like everyone else.

Re: sui generis

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Feb 10, 2020 8:36 pm


Agreed. But some are more unique than others! :D


Ken - February 10, 2020

Re: sui generis

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sat Feb 15, 2020 6:58 pm

weird bird

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