Quirky and novel: ways of saying that something is unusual (1)

Listen to the author reading this blog post:

portrait of a textile artist wearing eccentric make-up and sequins and a large, brightly coloured headdress
Trevor Willians/DigitalVision/GettyImages

by Kate Woodford

Today, I’m looking at the various words that we use to describe things that are unusual or in some way different. As usual, I’ll be looking at the subtle differences in meaning between this group of near-synonyms.

The word unique in its strictest sense means ‘different from anything or anyone else’. For example, we might say, ‘Each fingerprint is unique.’ We also use this adjective more loosely to mean ‘very unusual and special in some way’:

She has her own unique style. / He had a unique blend of talents and qualities.

The adjectives original and novel can be used for things that are unusual in a way that is new and interesting:

This is a highly original piece of work.

They’ve come up with a novel approach to solving this problem.

Meanwhile, in UK English, the word curious is used of things that are unusual in a rather strange way that makes you feel interested:

That’s a curious-looking garment! / His home is a curious mix of high- and low-tech.

The words rare and uncommon both mean ‘unusual’ and describe things that exist in very small numbers or things that happen very few times:

It’s a very rare plant.

Accidents of this type are fairly uncommon nowadays.

A freak event, meanwhile, is extremely unusual and could not have been predicted:

She was severely injured in a freak accident during a training session at the ground. / Sadly, what used to be called ‘freak storms’ are increasingly common.

Other adjectives describe things or people that are very unusual and surprising, for example remarkable and extraordinary. The adjectives exceptional and outstanding emphasize that someone or something is different because they are very much better than others of the same type:

The courage he showed throughout was quite remarkable.

This was an extraordinary achievement.

She is an exceptional talent.

It was an outstanding performance by the whole team. 

Something that is notable makes you notice it because it is unusual, usually in a good way:

The most notable feature of the building is its extraordinary staircase.

If something is unusual in a way that is both appealing and slightly odd, you can use the adjectives quirky or offbeat.

Somehow it doesn’t quite capture the book’s quirky charm.

The director is known for her offbeat (UK) humour / (US) humor.

Something that is different from what society generally considers to be normal is sometimes described as unconventional:

I had a fairly unconventional upbringing. / Her methods were somewhat unconventional.

If you enjoyed this post, do look out for my next one which will continue the theme of being different or unusual, but will focus on idioms and phrases with this meaning.

22 thoughts on “Quirky and novel: ways of saying that something is unusual (1)

  1. Anmol Jain

    These are perfect, especially the use of curious. Thanks a ton, Kate.

    I also like the words such as peculiar, bizarre, odd-looking, and out of the ordinary (informal).

    Looking forward to a fresh, new list in part-2.

  2. mapyziakhotmailcom

    Forever amazed by your grand way with words;-) Incidentally, I’ve often wondered about the word ‘uncanny’. (hear it a lot and yet never used it, not knowing it’s word partners apart from ‘uncanny resemblance’)
    Many thanks again;-)
    Mateusz

    1. Kate Woodford

      You are very kind, Mateusz – thank you! Yes, uncanny seems to collocate with ‘resemblance’, as you say, and synonyms such as ‘similarity’ and ‘likeness’. It also goes with words such as ‘ability’ and ‘knack’. I hope that helps.

  3. Thank you very much for this post! Perhaps we can add “unorthodox” and “eccentric” to the words above. For example: “She had some unorthodox approaches to teaching English.”, “One should not be worried about having some eccentric thoughts in order to be able to bring positive change.”

  4. Denis

    Such a great post! I really appreciate you effort.
    To add a couple more, I’ll mention ‘distinctive’ & ‘one of a kind’.

  5. Livia

    My very favorite thing to do when I come to the website to search for meanings and pronunciation of words, is to come here and read the articles! It enriches my vocabulary and fluency! I’m delighted every time! Thanks!

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