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What is the word/phrase to mean something that just happens once? For example,

I have often been told/expected to do this and not to do that. I become aimless and gradually lose the idea of who I am. I ask myself "What is the point?" If life is just once thing, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? If I cannot, I would rather live a shorter life.

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singleton may be :( –  Julius A Nov 2 '11 at 17:22
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If life can't be repeated, why can't I live my life in my own way? –  Terry Li Nov 2 '11 at 18:45
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I think the sentiment OP wants to convey is neatly encapsulated in Rose Tremain's Life is not a dress rehearsal –  FumbleFingers Nov 2 '11 at 19:11
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How about, "If life is lived but once, why can't I live my life in my own way ..." –  Stuart Woodward Nov 3 '11 at 1:10
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17 Answers 17

up vote 19 down vote accepted

In your example you could say, "if life is lived just once." Alternatively you could say "a one-time event."

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Similarly the phrase "You only live once"... despite what James Bond would tell you imdb.com/title/tt0062512 –  Lisa Nov 7 '11 at 4:44
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I would say "one-off":

one-off

n

brit

a. something that is carried out or made only once

b. (as modifier) a one-off job Also one-shot*

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This is somewhat unrecognizable to AmE speakers. –  Mitch Nov 2 '11 at 13:57
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It doesn't sound wrong to me. It does sound techy though. –  jimreed Nov 2 '11 at 14:17
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This makes me think of "off by one" as in a counting error. But then, I'm a programmer. –  Travis Christian Nov 2 '11 at 19:16
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I use this phrase all the time to refer to something done once. Never has anyone been confused by it. –  Thomas Owens Nov 2 '11 at 19:50
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I also use this phrase in the U.S. with no confusion. –  John Y Nov 2 '11 at 22:34
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The typical turn of phrase is one life to live.

If I only have one life to live, why can't I live my life in my own way…

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Thanks! What does "turn" in "turn of phrase" mean? –  Tim Nov 2 '11 at 16:30
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@Tim You should create a question for that too… ;) "Turn of phrase" is idiomatic, it means "An expression which is worded in a distinctive way" The use of turn isn't literal, but I suppose evokes the "metamorphose" meaning (eg. Midas turned what he touched into gold) Which I suppose makes "turn of phrase" an interesting turn of phrase. –  ghoppe Nov 2 '11 at 16:38
    
@ghoppe, that sounds a bit like a soap opera. –  Andrew Neely Nov 2 '11 at 16:53
    
Thanks! @Andrew: What does "that sounds a bit like a soap opera" mean? –  Tim Nov 2 '11 at 17:00
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@Tim "Change of meaning of phrase" would be a literal definition for "turn of phrase", but not the actual way it is used. It is an idiom, so its usage doesn't exactly match the literal meaning. –  ghoppe Nov 2 '11 at 18:40
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For the life issue in the body of the question, previously-suggested one-time thing is what I would use. However, for the title question, "Word/phrase to mean something that just happens once", previous suggestions like unique, one-off, one-shot, and singular all apply in various situations, and the following apply in other cases of things that happen only once:

  • singleton e.g. "A class that may not be instantiated more than once"
  • nonce, "The one or single occasion"
  • For words that "occur only once within a context" there's the versatile phrase hapax legomenon
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Both nonce and singleton are used as technical terms in different branches of computer science, to mean an object that can can only exist once in a particular universe. –  Gilles Nov 5 '11 at 21:24
    
+1 for nonce. Of course outside of CS it isn't a very nice word. –  5arx Nov 9 '11 at 14:02
    
+1 for singleton and nonce, both of which I would have suggested myself –  advait Sep 11 '12 at 13:59
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"If life is a singular event" might work.

A common English expression is "you only have one life to live."

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"Once in a lifetime" is used a lot to mean this.

Extremely rare, especially as an opportunity. For example, An offer like that will come just once in a lifetime. This phrase, often used hyperbolically, was first recorded in 1854.

From dictionary-reference.com

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I would say: "If life is a one-shot deal, ..."

one-shot
adjective
5. occurring, done, etc., only once.

This is definitely not a good choice for formal writing though. Mark's answer is better for formal writing.

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This is definitely not a good choice for formal writing. –  Josh Nov 2 '11 at 21:55
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If I get only one turn at life, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? If I cannot, I would rather live a shorter life.

or

Since I get one life, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? If I cannot, I would rather live a shorter life.

or

If I get only chance at life, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? If I cannot, I would rather live a shorter life.

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I usually use "one-time thing" for such occasions.

If life is just a one-time thing...

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I have often been told/expected to do this and not to do that. I become aimless and gradually lose the idea of who I am. I ask myself "What is the point?" If you only live once, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? If I cannot, I would rather live a shorter life.

Alternatively, If I only live once, which is more factually correct, but for the purposes of flow may not be better. If one only lives once and If we only live once are also valid.

And for good measure:

If live once only one - Yoda

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Thanks! But why use you is better than I, given I is used throughout the example? –  Tim Nov 2 '11 at 18:26
    
I would actually lean towards the pronoun: "If we only live once". –  Alain Nov 2 '11 at 18:39
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"Unique event" seems the closest to me.

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Specific to a life lived, I would go with one life to live, although in a more general context the term would be non-repeatable.

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In general, the word for something that only happens once is "unique". But in your example you mean that each person's life just happens once, which is a little different. If you said, "My life is unique" or "My life is a unique event", people would understand you to mean that your life is special and different from everyone else's, not that you only get one of them.

And just by the way, I think the problem you state is a non-issue. if you always do what you think is best and most suitable for yourself regardless of the opinions of others, your life probably will be short. If you always do whatever you happen to feel like doing at the moment, sooner or later one of the people that you're trying to cheat, rob, rape, or murder is going to fight back and kill you. That would be the inevitable result of always doing whatever "feels best for me". :-)

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Thanks! As to your "by the way", what I personally think is right and suitable to myself is not selfish nor to hurt others. There are two folds here: (1) I was talking about self issues most of which have little impact on others; (2) I don't think making others bad makes me feel right and fits into my personal philosophy. –  Tim Nov 2 '11 at 18:16
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... I ask myself "What is the point?" If I get to live this life just once, why can't I live my life my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? ...

or

... I ask myself "What is the point?" If I only live once, why can't I live my life my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me? ...

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I think discrete might work here, especially since you're talking about your life being a one time thing, and separate from that of others.

dis·crete/disˈkrēt/

Adjective:
Individually separate and distinct.

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Err, the point isn't that your life is separate from others' lives, it's that there's only one for each person. –  Daniel Nov 2 '11 at 18:43
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You could also say it is something that happens 'once in a blue moon'

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No, that means rarely, not necessarily just once. –  Gilles Nov 5 '11 at 21:22
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I ask myself "What is the point?" If it's my life and nobody else's, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me?

Alternatively

I ask myself "What is the point?" Whose life is it anyway? If it's mine, why can't I live my life in my own way, the way I think is right and suitable to me?

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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 3 '11 at 21:46

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