Special and Essential

Would you rather be ‘special’ or ‘essential’?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering since Barak Obama and David Cameron declared that the relationship between the UK and the US is no longer ‘special’, but is now ‘essential’.

According to one analyst on the news, in the ‘special’ period the was the risk of the impression that Britain was a bit desperate, and begging to be reassured that we were important to America, whereas in this new age of the essential, it is a more grown up period of interdependency.

Nick Robinson, the BBC political editor suggested that we think about this semantic difference in the context of a long term personal relationship.  ‘Special’ is the adjective for the first flush of a romance, ‘essential’ comes with age and experience and a pragmatic lessening of emotion.

All this smacked to me of words games, so, of course, I consulted my dictionary.

‘Special’ denotes something of a particular kind, peculiar, not general, or for a particular purpose, or exceptional in amount or degree or intensity.


‘Essential’ means of, or constituting, a thing’s essence, indispensable, or exceedingly important.


It seems there is a comparative element to specialness, whereas the essential is something that is inherent; something that you have to have whether you want it or not.

Or maybe, sometimes you want something that little bit special, but you’ll always need the essential.

I guess both could describe something good or something bad; something especially unpleasant or a necessary evil.

So looked at objectively, dictionary in hand, it just looks like a bit of rebranding, like when they changed the name of ‘Snickers’ to ‘Marathon’, and Opal Fruits to something that I keep forgetting, condemning me to receiving patronising stares from the trainee at the hairdressers  when I say that the shampoo smells a bit like them.

Let’s hope it’s successful and not like the rechristening of the Post Office to Consignia, before being expensively changed back, or that period when British Airways painted each of its aircraft with a different design, confusing everyone.

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  1. margaret nickels

     /  May 26, 2011

    possible to be both?

  2. Of course, but I was intrigued by the distinctions drawn by the political commentators.

  3. brendan stallard

     /  May 26, 2011


    I think I’d very much prefer to be, essential than special. Although, having been an Irisher resident in the USA for 17 years now, let me assure you this silly relationship is far more important to the UK than it is the USA.

    Most USAers figger Manchester United is a football club based somewhere around London.

    A lot of British folks I have come across have no real idea about just how much of a melting pot the USA is. From my conversations with them, they regard Americans as rather unsophisticated English people.

    They’re not, and they really care a great deal more about the Royal Femly than they do all the UK politics you can shake at ’em.

    You know what the right wing news wallahs (AM radio and Fox news) are full of today? Obama signed some book or other in the house with the wrong year, 2008, instead of 2011. He was probably nervous or distracted. Doesn’t matter, biggest news of the day to the right wingers.


    • Brendan, I think the political issue here is that the Obama administration had appeared to distance itself from its alliance with Britain, which was felt as a bit of an insult here, bearing in mind that the UK has followed the US into all its recent shooting and killing wars; and given that Cameron is already actively talking about exiting Afghanistan soonish Obama realised that a little more soft soap was required.
      Unfortunately, the more Americans go on about the British Royals the more unsophisticated they look.
      UK press noted the date mistake, and moved on!


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