That is, something which is especially remarkable in one isolated instance because it rises above being quintessentially mediocre, as is the case in every other example.

Consider the chocolate chip cookie.

Everyone bakes chocolate chip cookies.

They are so commonplace that there are rarely, if ever, any actually delicious chocolate chip cookies. However, in the face of bland ubiquity, some people occasionally -do- bake a truly and breathtakingly excellent chocolate chip cookie. Because it rises above what is otherwise widespread and bromidic, this one excellent chocolate chip cookie outshines the grandest and most ornate desserts specifically designed to be outstanding.

This concept can be applied in many places, and we often take it for granted without being able to reduce and articulate it with a formal term. What word am I looking for?

  • 4
    You've been eating the wrong chocolate chip cookies Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:25
  • 3
    Surely, any question that has the audacity to claim that chocolate chip cookies, even commonplace ones, are bromidic or poor in quality, must by its very nature be off-topic on SE—possibly even on the Internet and Earth as a whole! (The question itself is, apart from the chosen example, quite interesting, of course.) Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 18:45
  • Wouldn't 'astonishing' the word you are looking for ? Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 23:48
  • In what strange land are chocolate chip cookies are so common?
    – user867
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 2:59
  • Maybe you live in a chocolate chip cookie factory or something, eating cookies morning, noon, and night, but regarding the accuracy of your characterization...
    – COTO
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 20:08

8 Answers 8


I think I understand what you are after. You describe a scenario in which a person bites into THE cookie, not expecting anything other than the usual mediocrity. S/he is pleasantly surprised, however, to discover it is the quintessence of chocolate chip cookieness.

I would call that moment an epiphany, an eye-opening experience. It is an experience that breaks the mold. It serves as a sort of paradigm shift in the way the chocolate cookie is henceforward perceived. That cookie becomes a benchmark for tasting and judging any other cookie, yea, any dessert. It is the lodestar, the zenith, the epitome, a game changer, da bomb.

Is this what you are after?

  • 1
    I think this is closest to the mark. The use of "lodestar" is especially good, and I think that if cornered, I would use that sort of language as an answer to my own question. To plumb deeper still, suppose we try to give some formal nomenclature to the category of this sort of thing. Many things we encounter are grand and excellent, but we expect them to be. What do we call the several objects or past-times or ideas that can, in of themselves, define the radical essence of their type, though they are normally bland (the Uber-cookie rising from the midst of so many mediocre brethren)?
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 19:31
  • 1
    The Kwisatz Haderach of cookiedom? Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 22:17

In order to capture the juxtaposition of the truly sublime and the mundane it rises above, perhaps an idiomatic (or at least semi-idiomatic) phrase like a diamond among the pebbles or a diamond in rough pebbles, or whichever variation of it seems more idiomatic to you, could work.


I'd propose "Exceptional" in this scenario.

unusually good; outstanding

I think it works very well to convey the fact of being better than usual... i.e., that the quality is an exception to the usual standard.

The team played well but Jones' performance was exceptional.

This clearly shows one to be a "stand out" from the norm.

You do say "one isolated instance" in your question so you could go with "unprecedented".

  • Thanks for the reply, but I am not satisfied with words like "exceptional" or @kimball's "outstanding," because these terms have been muddled with more general usages as straightforward hyperbole. The concept I am attempting to articulate is, perhaps, a more contextual application of "exceptional." I am interested in the term that can distill the experience of "that thing which, by all rational expectation, is rather dull, and in its dullness, satisfactory; however, when coming upon it in a singular instance, it is far better than normal, specifically because it is generally dull."
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 16:58
  • I agree entirely that the true meaning of exceptional has been diluted over the years. I will have a think and see if I can come up with something better.
    – Ste
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:01
  • I've added unprecedented to my answer but not sure that's quite what you're after either.
    – Ste
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:07
  • I am considering this "thing" or, specifically, "cookie" less in terms of itself and more in terms of its being categorically [insert word we are looking for]. The cookie, which happens to be extraordinary in the example given, is not itself what I am trying to articulate. Is this specific cookie exceptional and unprecedented? Yes. But what makes it essentially these things? It is exceptional because other cookies are ordinary. It is not just that the singular cookie happens to be great, but that these cookies tend to be so common. Its greatness is in spite of this commonality.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 17:16
  • 1
    @Jim that is the very essence of being exceptional, though. It is impossible to say that something is exceptional unless you are comparing it to things which are not.
    – starwed
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 22:48

I am surprised, (pleasantly, of course), that I turned up here in response to my Google request to find out a particular naming application using the word "exceptional". I have learnt a few things regarding the finer definitions and subtle variations of the many words that have been suggested so far.

For what it is worth, it has brought to mind an example of something I remember from long ago when I first started working in an AM Broadcast Radio Station as a Sound Engineer, having been a Radio Mechanic Apprentice before that. This was at the time, about the early 1960s, Stereo Broadcasting was being tried in Australia, but in general well before the FM service started. I had complained that the "LARGE" mono control room monitor sounded "ordinary". It just seemed to be nothing special, but did not have any obvious faults either. It did have power, without distortion, though, as could be expected from the 9 cubic foot enclosure, a triangular corner type from Wharfdale, mounted over the main control desk abutting the ceiling, facing down at a 45 degree angle, right above my supervisor. This sand-filled panel housing for a powerful 3-way system, with its 15" bass, was considered "exceptional" at the time, but I had not recognised that fact, only its no-nonsense ability to do the job required, without adding any qualities of its own to the sound it was reproducing.

I realised later that that exceptional sound was not screaming out "listen to me", but just doing its job well. It did not have screeching high frequencies that made violins sound "steely", or the "thump, thump, thump" of the bass doubling and over resonating. It was effortlessly reproducing the signal fed to it and it was effortless to listen to. It was exceptional sound, at least at the time.

Now, I listen to sound that is better, and reproduced by speakers that are much smaller, cost less in real terms, though one can go overboard here and pay thousands more for questionable improvements, it is a perceived art and that means, what appeals to one may not appeal to another.

I have not been able to add another word to the list, but I hope I have added a real concept awareness to reality as I experienced it. To me, the closest word is "epiphany", as that was the feeling when I realised what had happened. It was actually an "eye-opener", or should that be "ear-opener"?


There are several words to describe something which is far above average, or normal, quality.

  • Superior
  • Excellent
  • Outstanding
  • Best
  • Premium
  • First-class

In my opinion these words get overused, and so their meaning is sometimes diluted by silly advertising. If you want a word that expresses that the cookie exemplifies the best possible, you might use:

  • Superlative (though it might sound a bit funny)
  • Supreme
  • Divine
  • Peerless
  • Unparalleled

"This cookie is outstanding! I worry I will never taste one so delicious again."

"This is the best cookie I've ever tasted."

"This cookie is divine."

  • I appreciate the answer @kimball, but it misses the point of my question. I am not looking for a word that merely describes a static positive quality, such as those listed above. I am attempting to articulate a concept about unexpected quality in an atmosphere of averages. I chose the chocolate chip cookie as an example of something which is so ordinary we generally settle for its ordinariness. What I am trying to grasp is the moment when I pick up a cookie expecting it to be "normal" and am instead taken aback by its quality on the mere basis that I am resigned to its being ordinary.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 16:49
  • @Jim Could you explain why these words don't seem to fit? For example, "Outstanding" describes something that distinguishes itself from the mundane masses; How does that not apply?
    – user867
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 3:04

The unexpectedly good might be described as "remarkable".

remarkable adj. Worthy of attention; striking.


Paragon might make sense here, as word describing the exceptional thing:

a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality

Exemplar can, in one use, also mean kind of what you want:

a person or thing serving as a typical example or excellent model.

(Here it is the second sense that fits.)

And epitome is perhaps a bit better than paragon going by the dictionary definition

a person or thing that is a perfect example of a particular quality or type.

But I don't think there is any one word that conveys both that something is an especially good specimen and that most specimens are mediocre. Here is a challenge: find a usage of exceptional where there is not an explicit comparison to a baseline that is in some way the average.


To stand out from the crowd is a common idiom, which expresses the idea that something or someone has to be exceptionally good in order to be recognized. Therefore, when munching on an ordinary chocolate chip cookie, no one is expecting it to be really good but when it is, we can say it "stood out from the the rest/crowd"

I've had many good cookies in the past but this one stood out from the rest.

Another idiom which I think captures the same concept is to be one in a million.

That chocolate chip cookie was one in a million!

if you say that someone is one in a million, you mean that they are very special because they have such good qualities

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