from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Something rare.
  • noun The quality or state of being rare; infrequency of occurrence.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The condition of being rare, or not dense, or of occupying, as a corporeal substance, much space with little matter; thinness; tenuity: opposed to density: as, the rarity of a gas.
  • noun The state of being uncommon or of infrequent occurrence; uncommonness; infrequency.
  • noun Something that is rare or uncommon; a thing valued for its scarcity or for its unusual excellence.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The quality or state of being rare; rareness; thinness.
  • noun That which is rare; an uncommon thing; a thing valued for its scarcity.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A measure of the scarcity of an object.
  • noun chemistry, of a gas Thinness; the property of having low density
  • noun A rare object.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun noteworthy scarcity
  • noun something unusual -- perhaps worthy of collecting
  • noun a rarified quality


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Latin rāritās; compare French rareté. See also rare.


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  • "There were three possible kinds of rarity: intrinsic, circumstantial, and artificial. Intrinsic rarity would be something resembling the current status of Italian white truffles: nature just doesn't produce many of them and it has so far proved impossible to cultivate them. As with the truffles, there might not be very much spice in the world because it only grew in certain places under special conditions or climates.

    "Circumstantial rarity is natural in the sense that nature rather than human intervention limits the supply, but here the limitation is imposed not by climate, soil, or other intrinsic obstacles but rather by the difficulty of acquiring the product desired. Saffron today is extremely expensive, just as it was in the Middle Ages, not because it is a rare plant--in fact it can grow in many climates--but because the usable part is tedious to harvest and requires an immense amount of labor. Each flower has only three orange-red stigmas, so that seventy thousand flowers are needed to obtain a single pound of saffron.

    "A third kind of rarity is that imposed by human action, usually through deliberate restriction of the supply in order to increase the price. The product may then not be as rare as its price might lead one to believe. Diamonds, for example, are more common in the modern world than the prices they command would seem to indicate. When monopoly control by the De Beers Company of South Africa was effective, the price of diamonds was more than twice what it has become since the end of the cartel in the 1990s. Thus until recently a moderately rare product was monopolized and so rendered artificially even rarer."

    Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2008), 131-132.

    November 28, 2017