AskDefine | Define inimitable

Dictionary Definition

inimitable adj : defying imitation; matchless; "an inimitable style"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. beyond imitation, surpassing all others, matchless


beyond imitation

Derived terms

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Extensive Definition

Imitation is an advanced behavior whereby an individual observes and replicates another's. The word can be applied in many contexts, ranging from animal training to international politics.


In music, imitation refers to the repetition of a phrase played on one instrument or voice by another.

Anthropology and Social Sciences

In anthropology, diffusion theories explain why cultures imitate the ideas or practices of other cultures. Some theories hold that all cultures imitate ideas from one or a few original cultures, the Adam of the Bible, or several cultural circles that overlap. Evolutionary diffusion theory holds that cultures are influenced by one another, but that similar ideas can be developed in isolation.
It has been argued by Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine, that imitation is what makes humans unique among animals. Imitation might have been selected as fit by evolution because those who were good at it had a wider arsenal of learned cultural behavior at their disposal, such as tool making or even language.
In mid-20th century, social scientists began to study how and why people imitate ideas. Everett Rogers pioneered diffusion of innovations studies, using research to prove factors in adoption and profiles of adopters of ideas.


Studies of the human brain using fMRI have revealed a network of regions in the inferior frontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex which are typically actived during imitation tasks . It has been suggested that these regions contain mirror neurons similar to the mirror neurons recorded in the macaque monkey . However, it is not clear if macaques spontaneously imitate each other in the wild.
Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran argues that the evolution of mirror neurons were important in the human acquisition of complex skills such as language and believes mirror neurons to be a most important advanced in neuroscience. However, little evidence directly supports the theory that mirror neuron activity is involved in cognitive functions such as empathy or learning by imitation . Further research into these topics is ongoing.

Animal Behaviour

There are debates among scientists over whether animals can truly imitate novel actions or whether imitation is uniquely human. The current controversy is partly due to different definitions of imitation. The definition by Thorndike of “learning to do an act from seeing it done” has two major shortcomings: first, by using “seeing” it restricts imitation to the visual domain and excludes e.g. vocal imitation and, second, it would also include mechanisms such as priming, contagious behaviour and social facilitation , which most scientist want to distinguish from imitation as separate forms of observational learning. Thorpe suggested defining imitation as “the copying of a novel or otherwise improbable act or utterance, or some act for which there is clearly no instinctive tendency” . This definition is favoured by many scholars, though questions have been raised how strictly the term “novel” has to be interpreted and how exactly a performed act has to match the demonstration to count as a copy. In 1952 Hayes & Hayes used the “Do-as-I-do” procedure to demonstrate the imitative abilities of their trained chimpanzee “Viki”. Their study was repeatedly criticised for its subjectivity in the interpretation of the responses of their subject. Replications of this study found much lower matching degrees between the subjects and their models. However, imitation research focusing on the copying fidelity got new momentum from a recent study by Voelkl and Huber . They performed detailed analyses of the motion trajectories of both model and observer monkeys and found a high matching degree in their movement patterns. In parallel to these studies comparative psychologists used experimental designs where they provided tools or apparatuses that could be handled in different ways. With such a paradigm Heyes and co-workers reported evidence for imitation in rats which pushed a lever in the same direction as their models, though later on they withdrew their claims due to methodological problems in their original setup . By trying to design a testing paradigm that is less arbitrary than pushing a lever to the left or to the right, Custance and co-workers introduced the “artificial fruit” paradigm, where a small object could be opened in different ways to retrieve food placed inside the object – not unlike a hard shelled fruit. Using this paradigm, scientists reported evidence for imitation in monkeys and apes .

Further reading

  • Zentall, T.R. (2006). Imitation: Definitions, evidence, and mechanisms. Animal Cognition, 9, 335-353. Full text
inimitable in Danish: Imitation
inimitable in German: Nachahmung (Soziologie)
inimitable in Spanish: Mimesis#Sociolog.C3.ADa
inimitable in French: Gabriel Tarde#Les_lois_de_l.27imitation
inimitable in Italian: Imitazione
inimitable in Japanese: 模倣
inimitable in Polish: Naśladownictwo
inimitable in Serbian: Имитација
inimitable in Chinese: 模仿

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

beyond compare, beyond comparison, easily first, facile princeps, immortal, incomparable, invincible, matchless, nulli secundus, peerless, second to none, sui generis, unapproachable, unapproached, unbeatable, unequaled, unexampled, unexcelled, unique, unmatchable, unmatched, unparagoned, unparalleled, unpeered, unrivaled, unsurpassable, unsurpassed, without equal, without parallel
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