I need a word to describe the state of being the only one of something. For context, it's for the UI of a scientific device that detects and analyzes cells. In this particular case, we are talking about a particular cell that the device has judged to be the only one there.

The phrase needs to be short, so I want to use "Judgment of *". "Singularity" would appear to be the perfect word for what I am looking for -- if it hadn't already been taken for a very different meaning.

Any other suggestions? I really think there must be a word for this; it seems a pretty basic concept. I have a feeling that maybe I am simply not seeing an obvious choice...

  • 1
    Are you sure you want to use "judgement" in this case? It can have some other meanings that you might not want. You might also try sense, acuity, awareness, perception/perceive. Apr 20, 2014 at 22:08
  • You're right. To be honest, that's not my favourite word-choice either, but it's already been prescribed by the client :)
    – mahoke
    Apr 20, 2014 at 22:43
  • 11
    The correct word is unique.
    – tchrist
    Apr 21, 2014 at 1:56
  • Well, I know how difficult clients can be, but sometimes if you show them a few good alternatives then they find something they like better. I'd suggest coming up with a few really good options for them and then see if they change their mind. Apr 21, 2014 at 6:23
  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is asking for a word that will be used in an overly narrow context.
    – MrHen
    Apr 21, 2014 at 16:24

16 Answers 16


What about uniqueness, meaning the state of being the only if its kind?


  • 2
    Thanks for that suggestion -- seems to be getting close. But to me, "uniqueness" seems to imply being different. In this situation, the cell is not different from any other cells of its type; it's simply that it happens to be the only one present in this sample. (I suppose that fact in itself makes it unique, but I don't want the reader to get the wrong meaning.)
    – mahoke
    Apr 20, 2014 at 22:12
  • 9
    That is actually what "unique" means in correct English.
    – fdb
    Apr 20, 2014 at 23:43
  • 1
    mahoke is kind of right - 'uniqueness' was what came to mind for me as well, but it is true that it would have a strong connotation of "globally unique", rather than just "unique in the current sample". If you say "that girl's hobbies are... unique", you'd don't generally mean just among her friends.
    – neminem
    Apr 21, 2014 at 14:33
  • 2
    Correct answer to the question in the title, if you ignore the body, but poor answer to the actual question as explained in the body.
    – KRyan
    Apr 21, 2014 at 14:59


a person or thing occurring singly, especially an individual set apart from others.

  • In terms of meaning, this is getting close to what I'm after. Except (sorry for being finicky) I need a word that would be closer to "singleton-ness". Maybe I could just use "Judgment of being a singleton" but I was really hoping to find one nice, neat word to fit the bill.
    – mahoke
    Apr 20, 2014 at 22:50
  • How about "detection" instead of "judgment" -- i.e. "singleton detection"?
    – Jander
    Apr 21, 2014 at 0:22
  • Unfortunately, we don't have a word for "being a singleton". Why don't you just drop that part and say "Judgement of Singletons"? Apr 21, 2014 at 6:21
  • @mahoke I think "Judgement of Singleton" sounds fine as the title of a graph, if I'm understanding your use correctly.
    – KRyan
    Apr 21, 2014 at 14:59

Two root words that have not yet been suggested here are:

(Derived from) distinct: distinctiveness or distinction

(Derived from) exclusive: exclusiveness

  • Exclusive, that sounds like closer to what the OP is looking for. Apr 21, 2014 at 6:19
  • 2
    Don't forget about 'exclusivity'.
    – Terry N
    Apr 22, 2014 at 5:37

"the cell is not different from any other cells of its type; it's simply that it happens to be the only one present in this sample."

So the device has identified a solitary cell of xxx type. I agree that unique is not the correct word in this case, but I think you have a problem if you are restricted to using the word "judgement". This is a terrible choice because machines and devices are not capable of judging anything; you have to be a living conscious being to be able to make a judgement. So try to convince your client that "identified" or "registered" would be much better English.

. . although of course if it is the very quality of being a solitary case or example you wish to focus upon, then this obviously does involve some kind of interpretation or judgement, but still it cannot be the device which makes such an interpretation. The device merely provides data which a human being must or may interpret or judge. Mercifully the word "solitariness" does not exist and I feel that "solitude" isn't quite right either, so I fear that a syntactical reconstruction based on a careful semantic analysis of what it really is you or your client want to communicate, might be the best if not only option.


I think the most common phrase is simply - one-of-a-kind.

Also you could use haecceity to describe this phenomenon.

the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other

  • 2
    The word for something that is one of a kind is unique.
    – tchrist
    Apr 21, 2014 at 2:32
  • have you read OP's comment? But to me, "uniqueness" seems to imply being different. In this situation, the cell is not different from any other cells of its type; it's simply that it happens to be the only one present in this sample. (I suppose that fact in itself makes it unique, but I don't want the reader to get the wrong meaning.) Apr 21, 2014 at 2:34
  • 1
    @tchrist - true in definition not always in use. Apr 21, 2014 at 2:36
  • @YohanesKhosiawan - that is why I added haecceity. This would work here. Apr 21, 2014 at 2:39
  • Sorry, I am referring to @tchrist Apr 21, 2014 at 2:50

You might co-opt the term hapax, which is an informal abbreviation of hapax legomenon, a term that means “A word occurring only once in a given corpus”.

As noted in etymonline's entry for the term, hapax means once or occurring only once:

hapax legomenon (n.) (plural legomena), “word occurring only once,” Greek, literally “once said,” from hapax “once” + legomenon, neuter passive present participle of legein “to say.”

If you want to make it clear you're referring to a singleton event or item (rather than a word), perhaps use phrase hapax event or hapax item.


You ask for a word that means being only one of something. That word is "the" -- the something. Whether this helps you here is another question.

You are not clear about how this cell is singled out. You say that it is identical to others of the same type, but it is the only one of its type in the given sample. If so, why not just refer to it as "the ____ cell", where ____ is the type? E.g., if it is the only blue cell then call it "the blue cell".

Does the the type have a name, or can you give it one? If you cannot name or at least characterize the type then it makes little sense to look for a word that specifies that this cell is the only one found to be of that type.

If the type is complex to describe, then do so first and then refer to this cell as the "target cell", the "targeted cell", the "cell found by the device", or some such.

You say that the characterization is that this is the "particular cell that the device has judged to be the only one there". But later you seem to say that it is not the only one there.

You say then that it is the only one in the sample that is of a particular type. It apparently has some property or passes some test, and that is what qualifies it. Define that property/test and you will have gone some way toward answering your question, I think.

My suggestion is to get the logic and thus the message clear first, without worrying about the wording. Ask yourself just what it is that you are trying to tell the reader about this cell (or about the device or about both...). Somehow, your device has targeted/identified/singled out this cell in this sample. Be clear about what that means and why it is important, and then you will find appropriate wording.

I'd also suggest that you avoid a noun phrase ("judgment of singularity" or whatever). Use a verb phrase instead. E.g., say what the device actually did: "determined that this cell is the only one that satifies XYZ."

Use judged instead of judgment of; determined instead of determination of; proved instead of proof of; demonstrated instead of demonstration of"... Stringing together noun phrases (especially latinate ones) is the curse of poorly written scientific papers. People often do it, oddly enough, because they think it makes them sound more authoritative. Especially if you are creating a UI or writing about one for its users, keep it simple. Put yourself in the place of the reader.


If uniqueness doesn't work for you, and singularity sounds right, honestly I would just use singularity.

You mention that singularity is perfect, except that it is "taken" for some other meaning. But which other meaning? There are several. That fact in itself should tell you that multiple meanings can coexist for a given word. The only issue is whether it would be confused with something else in the context of your intended use.

For example, if the device in question were to detect whether some planet is the only one in a given solar system, then saying that the device renders "judgment of singularity" might lead some people to have to pause a moment to realize you're not talking about detecting black holes. Or if your device detects whether some computer contains only a single central processing unit, then "judgment of singularity" might make people think, for a split second, that your device somehow determines whether we have reached the point at which artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence.

Even those examples are strained. I really doubt meaningful confusion would arise, unless singularity already means something else with respect to that device.

  • John, I think you've made a very important point; and in this case I think it will be entirely clear to the user that we are talking about the fact that only one of these cells has been identified in the sample. I think I will go with "singularity" after all!
    – mahoke
    Apr 29, 2014 at 9:47

I would use the word singular.

  • How succinct! This is totally the answer. Do so few people have familiarity with this principal sense of the word that its sense has become archaic? But it is SO fitting! Apr 22, 2014 at 20:13

How about anomaly?

It indicates something that’s different from the common things in a certain environment.

  • To me, "anomaly" implies something abnormal with a negative connotation. An anomaly also might not be unique within a set. [1,2,3,4,5,6,78,78] clearly has two anomalies. As the OP is working on a scientific device examining cells, "anomaly" may imply negative status along the lines of cancers -- which may or may not be what the OP wants.
    – Brian S
    Apr 21, 2014 at 16:33
  • Hi - sorry for massive spam but area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/74083/korean-language could use you if you're not there already! May 23, 2016 at 18:44

Solitary - Living or being by one's self; alone; having no companion present; being without associates.


A much less formal term that matches your intended meaning is "one-off":

one-off —

  1. occurring once: happening only once, not as part of a series
  2. single unrepeated event: a unique and unrepeatable or unrepeated thing or event

This is also sometimes phrased as "one-of". To fit this into the context of "judgment of" you could use "oneness" (or "singleness"):

oneness —

  1. singleness: the quality of being one as opposed to many
  2. uniqueness: the quality of being unique

So judgment of oneness or judgment of singleness would seem to fit.


I like lone, as in

enter image description here

Merriam-Webster says lone means:

1 a : having no company : solitary b : preferring solitude 2 : only, sole 3 : situated by itself :


From what I can see, you're looking for a single value that may or may not be the same as other values in a spectrum you're looking for something in isolation.

How about "Judgment in isolation"?



I wish that soloist would work in this realm. It has the right feel of being the only one of its kind except that, aside from the feel of the word to be in-place, this would of course not be true to its meaning.

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