The irony of 'Unprecedented Times'!

Am I alone in thinking that the irony antennae of the poor stooge writing for Transpennine Express must have been switched off, or stuck in a siding when s/he wrote the nigh-on oxymoronic:

‘these continue to be unprecedented times’

or was it a cunning ploy to pique the interest of my pedantic grammarian self?


On a par with the ‘new normal’?

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I thought it looked more or less okay. The times continue to be unprecedented.

In reality yes, but terminology wise…
A time can only be unprecedented if its like has not occurred up to that point.

Can a time be unprecedented or just an event? Alternatively are all times unprecedented?

It’s the ‘continue’ that creates the grammatical issue, not the ‘unprecedented’…


Indded, but that’s not what the title asks.

All times are unprecedented. Pandemics aren’t.

This is a job for @bhoyo !

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Unprecedented times, whilst possibly accurate, has become a cliche, and an increasingly lazy one at that. For me, that’s a stronger reason to avoid its use than any possible contradiction.



My bugbear is ‘more unique’. For me something either is, or is not.

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Not just for you, Bruce. “Unique” is, by definition, absolute. However, common usage appears to be shifting the definition. Hold the line!

I agree with what most of you appear to be saying: “unprecedented times” is not necessarily incorrect, but it is lazy and clunky. As per @n-lot, can the times be anything other than unprecedented?

At least Transpennine Express didn’t say “past experience” or “previous history.” That would prompt me to wield Bhoyo’s Big Red Pen. :grinning:



Quite often heard used as “…that’s a pretty unique specimen” or “…that’s a pretty unique way of achieving that outcome”

“pretty unique” = “rare” or perhaps “unusual” or simply “different”

But “wow, that’s more unique than I was expecting …” also raises my eyebrow.

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Like I’m giving 110% effort …

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Agree. It’s fine.

Indicates ever growing unprecedentedness. :smiley_cat:


Unprecedented: For which no precedent can be cited; of an unexampled kind. 1623

Precedent: late Middle English from Old French:

  1. A thing or person that precedes or goes before another.
  2. That which has been mentioned just before: 1607
  3. That which precedes in time or goes before another, an antecedent: 1788
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Past experience

It’s tautological. However, it’s a common enough phrase that people accept.

It’s a fairly common phenomenon in language that as a word starts to feel weaker, people add riders to it to draw attention to it. Hence, ‘from past experience’ or ‘from previous experience’ help to accentuate the word.

Quite a few people like to denigrate this kind of thing, but given how ubiquitous it is, I think it’s obvious it’s an important element in the evolution of speech. Maybe it’s not something you’d use in the most elegant writing, but it’s fine in conversation.

A Forum such as Naim’s, is basically a place for conversation.


I see nothing wrong with it. ‘These times’ refers to one on-going event, the pandemic (presumably). It started, it hasn’t ended so it’s still a single event, unprecedented and continuing.

Quite valid. If I cycled to work yesterday and it took me an hour & 7 minutes to knock out the 20.8 miles that’s pretty good. If I do tomorrow in 1:01 that’s better - I’ll have put in something around 110% of yesterday’s effort. 100% isn’t a maximum possible, it’s the total amount of a value that could easily be larger on a different day.