Better way to build a Dictionary

As I was building dictionaries for the past few days (yes very exciting I agree), I have learnt lots about the various ways to do this.

In the past I would have build a dictionary (say for unique occurances of an item - OK I know I can do this using set etc.... but please humour me this is a dictionary example).

for a in list_of_words:
    if unique[a] exists:

Which is some ways is quite nice - however

for a in list_of_words:
    unique[a] = unique.get(a,0) +1

I think is cleaner - and more elegant. Plus you get to record the number of occurances of the item.