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Is the phrase "is a singularly shit strategy" a rude way of expressing "is the only reliable strategy"? The use of the word "shit" appears to be self-effacing, trying to be as humble as dirt and negating the effectiveness of the strategy. I am not sure.

What exactly does the phrase mean?

Andy North tweeted in replying to Richard Dawkins: Unbelievable arrogance. Some of us actually work in schools teaching science and you know what? We think just showing children images that insult their faith is a singularly shit strategy for actually educating them about science, religion, or anything else

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    NB (nota bene): If you cite a paragraph, you should also add a link or textual description of the source. It's a sign of courtesy towards the original author, it allows interested readers to read the whole story, and, depending on your jurisdiction, it might even be legally required.
    – Heinzi
    Mar 27 at 11:42
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    in New English, "singularly" is just an emphasis soundform. it is not a word in the conventional sense. the phrase simply means "very shit strategy".
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 15:34
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    No. This strategy is not the shit, this strategy is shit. Mar 27 at 15:35
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    To avoid confusion, @NewPlanet, "singularly bad" is a fairly common phrase in English that just means "very bad". (There's no connection to the precise, archaic meaning of "singularly".) It's that simple.
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 17:14
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No. Andy North is saying that this strategy is unpleasant and worthless, just like excrement. The word "singularly" here means "unusually". Insulting people's beliefs is an unusually poor strategy for educating them.

Added in light of the lively discussion below:

The use of "singular" to mean "highly unusual" or "one of a kind" was much more common in the 19th century. Expressions included "singular incident" and "singular anecdote". A "singular incident" was a highly unusual and strange one. A "singular anecdote" was an interesting story about such an event.

But "singular" was also used pejoratively. The expression "singularly bad" was used. And one might say that someone held a "singular belief". This meant that the belief was strange, that one could see no basis for that belief whatsoever. Andy North is using "singular" in such a pejorative way.

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    "uniquely" is be a more-specific synonym for "singularly". i.e. this strategy is at the very top of the list of bad strategies. Mar 27 at 12:54
  • But indeed it is not even vaguely close to being actually "at the top of the list". It will be confusing to non-English speakers unless we add the explanation that "singularly" is being used in an incredibly hyperbolic, ridiculous, meaningless sense. (Which is the only way it is used nowadays.)
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 15:36
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    I think it is pretty clear that the author of the tweet believes that the strategy is not only very bad, but particularly so. "Singularly" seems, to me, to be well-chosen for that reason. It is not your usual bad idea, but one that stands out from the others. Whether or not that is a "ridiculous" thing to say is a matter of opinion and not of grammar. It conveys a different meaning from "very bad". Mar 27 at 16:29
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    @PeterCordes - to avoid confusion. The archaic meaning of "singularly" is not at the top of a list. The archaic meaning of singularly is "separate from any lists, in a (good/bad) class of its own, so (good/bad) that it is not even on the other lists."
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 17:07
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    .. just as Just as incredible! amazing! literally! now have no connection at all to the original precise meanings.
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 17:12
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You need to break this down into its component parts. A "shit strategy" means a "bad strategy", where he is using a bit of a potty mouth to emphasize how bad he thinks it is. Then when he adds an adverb "singularly shit" he is saying that this strategy is so bad, it is distinguished as being singular. That it is the one, the worst possible strategy.

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Note that in English, a real pattern of the last say 100 years is that:

we take complicated words with very specific meanings, and we convert them to mean: "very".

That is to say, complicated words have been converted to simply "emphasis" placeholders.

There are any number of examples of this. A funny example is

"literally"

You can look up what literally used to mean in an (old) dictionary.

However nowadays literally just means "really" or "very" - it is just general emphasis.

For example, normal sentences are:

"I was literally driving at 300 miles an hour!"

"That guy is is literally insane!"

"I literally died when I saw the ending to The Mandolorian"

and so on.

There are any number of examples of this - hundreds of examples. Virtually, perfectly, purely, amazing, stunning, overarching, etc etc. One random example, the word "decimate" in fact originally had an actual meaning, it means to destroy one-tenth of a force. But it now just means "destroy in a huge way, destroy everything, massive, emphasis!"

(Humorously I recently read in a youth novel ".. we literally decimated them .." which uses both words completely incorrectly! That is to say, incorrectly in terms of the old meaning.)

"singularly"

In the example at hand. Note that it is very likely that the writer does not even know or understand the actual meaning of "singularly".

You need to hear it as really just an "interjection".

Imagine this happened while someone was talking:

"This is a > slaps hands together and makes angry face < shit strategy for education!"

Or imagine

"This is a, damn it guys, shit strategy for education!"

"Singularly" has just become a random emphasis word. Because it's "sophisticated" it has a sort of pseudo-weight. But again, the writer does not even know or understand the actual meaning* of "singularly" - it's a "random emphasis sound-form".

Funnily enough I just heard (US) a local radio ad where someone said regarding a shop ".. is a singularly best location for choice and value ..".

It's completely, totally, utterly meaningless.

The person writing the copy would not be able to define "singularly". It's now just "a general emphasis word". It would be exactly as if they had had the announcer read: ".. is a, right on!, best location for choice and value .."

It's completely meaningless, it is just a general slangy "sound interjection".

Like WOOT! or YEAH!

Thus beware of dictionary definitions in these cases.

You would never learn this from a dictionary but in the example,

singularly shit strategy

simply means

very shit strategy

That's all it is.

You could put any emphasis word in there. Fucking shit strategy, literally shit strategy, amazingly shit strategy, etc.

The author is not trying to literally tease out the distinct meaning of the archaic meaning of "singularly" - it is a random emphasis-soundform that "sounds cool".

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    You don't explain what you think "singularly" means or why it has been (as you seem to think) misused by the author. Saying that the author does not know what it means is a strong claim which would require some evidence and may be very unhelpful to an English language learner. Mar 27 at 16:12
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    ??? the entire answer repeats (a number of times), for example at the end "singularly shit strategy simply means very shit strategy". Your concept of "strong claim..." unfortunately doesn't make sense. So: you are claiming that (astonishingly) the author does know what it means, and is using it in a precise, archaic manner? {Note that is simply: not possible. Much like the sentence "I was literally driving at a million miles a an hour", it is a certainly that the writer is using "literally" in the current usage of the word (a hyperbolic interjection).
    – Fattie
    Mar 27 at 17:04
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    It would be useful if you set out what you thought "singularly" means in order for your answer to be useful. My guess is that you are mistaken, but I cannot tell. Mar 27 at 18:59
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    In what dialect of current English is "singularly bad" an extremely common expression? Not in any that I am aware of. Giving two anecdotes for what you claim is a "real pattern over the last 100 years" is not evidence.
    – alephzero
    Mar 27 at 19:04
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    @Fattie You can know the literal meaning of a word and still use it hyperbolically. Actually one might even suspect that there is some hyperbole here: "Note that it is very likely that the writer does not even know or understand the actual meaning of 'singularly'." Mar 30 at 13:09

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