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I came across sui generis in the following paragraph of today’s New York Times (April 27) Restaurant Review section headlined "Chef’s table at Brooklyn Fair."

César Ramirez's restaurant in downtown Brooklyn is a kind of sui generis exercise in personal expression, and one of the more extraordinary restaurants in New York City.

As I was unfamiliar with the expression, "sui generic," I consulted two English Japanese dictionaries (Japanese publications) at hand; both of which gave the meaning of “unique, of its own kind,” by defining the word as an adjective to be placed after the noun as postposition.

However, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it simply as an adjective. Which is right? Is it right to place "sui generis" in the way of "sui generis exercise"?

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I've seen it both before and after the noun. Here are two examples of its usage I found from a Google search:

"sui generis works like Mary Chestnut's Civil War diary."

"This man, in fact, was sui generis , a true original."

As a note, I would use Latin phrases like this with caution. As you may have experienced, they tend to cause issues with how clearly the point is conveyed. George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language has an excellent way of critiquing this kind of pretentious word choice:

Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.

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Not to gainsay Orwell, but note the foreign expressions he cites as potentially being pretentious. Anybody think that "cul de sac" or "status quo" sound affected? Au contraire. One of the compelling arguments for "sui generis" is that it is a Latin term for which English has no equivalent. It's quite useful when you need it. I probably find occasion to employ it some 2 or 3 times a year in my writing. – The Raven Apr 27 '11 at 23:23
@The Raven I've had similar thoughts every time I've gone back to this essay. To be sure, he demands a lot of writers. I don't take this point at its word though. If you think "status quo" is necessary, and there is no way to say it in simple English, then go for it--that's your call. I think that Orwell was fighting against a much more unthoughtful degradation of the use of English. I don't think you are violating the spirit of this rule if you have considered it before doing it. – gbutters Apr 28 '11 at 0:53
@The Raven, what does "sui generis" connote to you that "one of a kind", "unique", or "all its own" doesn't? – Russell Borogove Jun 22 '11 at 18:20

The example you found is somewhat unusual. In practice, the typical construction is to treat "sui generis" as a postpositional adjective, as your Japanese dictionary suggests. It is possible to treat it as a standard adjective, e.g., "it is a sui generis restaurant" but it looks a bit odd.

The New York Times is quite notorious for doing things like this, calling attention to non-standard vocabulary and phrasing in articles. Also, you're reading a review and NYT reviewers in their art, music, theater, food, and fashion sections frequently push the envelope.

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I'd like to add that kind of grates on sui generis like nails on a blackboard. – Cerberus Apr 27 '11 at 21:34
+1 Cerberus. When I need a quick laugh, I read the Times' fashion section for howlers like, "Kenzo's lapels this year bespeak a certain moral geometry." They are truly shameless. – The Raven Apr 27 '11 at 23:35
@TheRaven: Hah, this "bespeak" is actually sort of funny, don't you think? But moral geometry in lapels sounds like the Postmodernism Generator. – Cerberus Apr 28 '11 at 1:59
@Raven +1 for bespeak haha sounds like a bespoke construction for me (echoing @Cerberus) – Paul Amerigo Pajo Apr 28 '11 at 8:16
@Raven. Question 1 in your comment. Does howler mean 'stupid statement / expression? An English Japanese dictionary at hand says usage of it in 'stupid statement' is British English. Is it true? 2. What 'Kenzo's lapels this year bespeak a certain moral geometry' mean? I don''t understand. Can you put it in plain English? – Yoichi Oishi Apr 29 '11 at 9:13

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