Oliver Kamm once again grumbles about people other than him giving aspiring writers advice:
World’s worst grammar columnist condemns the construction “very unique”. That’s Charlotte Brontë (in Villette) told. https://t.co/qm6pqU4HL3
— Oliver Kamm (@OliverKamm) August 20, 2017
Now the article he links to is a bit crap, but so is Kamm’s dismissal of it. The biggest error the columnist makes is equating stylistic preferences with grammar, which despite Kamm’s complaints about people doing this has nonetheless gifted him a regular column with which to share them.
Regardless of the other points the columnist makes, he is right to advise against using the term “very unique”. If I saw such a pairing I’d think the author ought to have found a better description, or – if it was unique – to drop the “very”. Kamm’s argument seems to be that if a famous writer has used it, then everybody else can too. This is idiotic. In Charlotte Brontë’s case, the overall quality of her output allows her to use pretty much any term she likes. But not everyone is Charlotte Brontë and if their work does not match her standard, they have less leeway. There are some truly awful passages in The Lord of the Rings and too much repetition, but nobody cares because overall it is a masterpiece. Nevertheless you’d perhaps tell an aspiring writer not to use the word “carven” to describe every damned pillar their heroes encounter, even if you acknowledge that Tolkien did just that.
There’s a good analogy here with sport. Top-class sportsmen can get away with pulling off audacious tricks on the field: Kevin Pietersen with the switch-hit, René Higuita’s scorpion kick, or this penalty by Lionel Messi. They have license to do so only because they have proved themselves masters of the basics to the point their overall product is beyond doubt and inadvisable behaviour can be overlooked. But if a lesser player were to do it, particularly one who is just setting out and a long way from proving themselves, they’d be rightly criticised and told not to do it again.
Back to writing, there is an error in the plot of The Big Sleep where Raymond Chandler forgets to tell us who killed the chauffeur. This doesn’t matter because the writing is of such high quality that glaring plot holes can be overlooked. According to Kamm’s logic, aspiring writers shouldn’t worry about tying up loose ends in a story because Raymond Chandler didn’t. This is pompous stupidity, and probably has less to do with improving people’s writing than signalling that he is familiar with the classics.