Commonly Confused Words: Anonymous and Unanimous

anonymous and unanimous
When the author of a text is unknown, his or her work is attributed to “Anonymous”. Thomas Jackson/Getty Images

Although there's some similarity in sound between the words anonymous and unanimous, their meanings are unrelated.

Definitions

The adjective anonymous refers to someone whose name is unknown or unidentified. By extension, anonymous can also refer to someone or something that's not distinct or noticeable--lacking interesting or unusual features. The adverb form is anonymously.

The adjective unanimous means fully in agreement: sharing the same views or sentiments or having the consent of everyone involved.

 The adverb form is unanimously.

Both anonymous and unanimous are non-gradable adjectives. That means you can't have an author who's more or less anonymous or a decision that's more or less unanimous.

Examples

  • "The police received details of the crime from an anonymous caller.
     
  • "Bitcoin allows people a way to make payments without using banks or national currencies such as the dollar or the euro. Because bitcoin transactions are unregulated and anonymous, the currency has proved popular among libertarians, tech enthusiasts, speculators and criminals." (Associated Press, "Bitcoin's Creator Unmasks Himself--Well, Maybe." The New York Times, May 2, 2016)
     
  • "The thought had occurred to Spooner previously, usually sitting around some anonymous newspaper bar, listening to reporters grumbling over a changed word or phrase in a lead paragraph, that what the world needed these days was more discouragement than it was getting at home." (Pete Dexter, Spooner. Grand Central Publishing, 2009).
     
  • "When I arrived I hastened to satisfy a certain morbid curiosity: I went to the address she had given me once; it proved to be an anonymous gap between two office buildings; I looked for her uncle's name in the directory; it was not there." (Vladimir Nabokov, "'That in Aleppo Once. . ..'" The Atlantic Monthly, 1944)
     
  • The planning commission adopted the new street plan by a unanimous vote.
     
  • "[R]oughly one-third of the Supreme Court's decisions have been unanimous each term since 1953." (Pamela C. Corley et al., The Puzzle of Unanimity: Consensus on the United States Supreme Court. Stanford University Press, 2013) 
     
  • "After two years of hearings the jury unanimously decided that behaviour by Liverpool supporters at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest did not contribute to the dangerous situation which developed there." (David Conn, "Hillsborough Families Criticise South Yorkshire PCC Over Inquest Tactics." The Guardian [UK], May 3, 2016)

Usage Notes

"Anonymous means unknown originator. Unanimous means everyone sharing the same opinions or views. 'The poem written by an anonymous contributor received unanimous approval from the magazine's editorial board to feature it next month."
(Barbara McNichol, Word Trippers, 2nd ed., 2014)

Practice

(a) "In a _____ vote, the United Nations passed a resolution to remind combating parties that hospitals are to be treated as sanctuaries from war."
(Associated Press, "U.N. Passes Measure to Protect Hospitals." The New York Times, May 3, 2016)

(b) The fourteenth century produced two great English poets, Geoffrey Chaucer and the _____ poet who wrote the Pearl, Purity, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and (possibly) Saint Erkenwald.

Answers to Practice Exercises: Anonymous and Unanimous

(a) "In a unanimous vote, the United Nations passed a resolution to remind combating parties that hospitals are to be treated as sanctuaries from war."
(Associated Press, "U.N. Passes Measure to Protect Hospitals." The New York Times, May 3, 2016)

(b) The fourteenth century produced two great English poets, Geoffrey Chaucer and the anonymous poet who wrote the Pearl, Purity, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and (possibly) Saint Erkenwald.

 

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words