Enough Superlatives Already!
David W. Hegg
Earlier today I finally hit my tipping point. What began long ago as an incitement to chuckle, and, over time, has grown to be a simple, common annoyance, has now tipped the seesaw over and sent me down the other side into the realization that our society has a toxic infatuation with superlatives. Even worse, I now believe it symbolizes the far greater ethical flattening of our moral system. Simply put, if everything is “the best ever” we have effectively lost the very concept of extraordinary.
While shopping in a local kitchen store, my wife picked up a small wire whisk and added it to the stack of Christmas goodies I had already given to the young female cashier. “Oh,” she cried, picking up the whisk, “isn’t this just the cutest thing ever?” That did it. My allergy to over-exaggeration broke through my better judgment and I just had to smirk, hoping both that it would be unseen, and that it would be seen by everyone, indicating just how inane that comment was.
It is obvious to me that most, if not all, of those under the age of 35 were never properly indoctrinated concerning the necessary distinctions between comparatives, and superlatives. Further, they must never have grasped that the crux element imbedded in any superlative is that there can only be one of them! You can’t have two or more things that are best, whether they be friends, songs, or cute kitchen gadgets.
I first spotted this terrifying trend years ago when it became a cultural mandate to assign the tag “best friends forever” (BFF) to as many friends as one could confidently count as best. In a twinkling of an eye, “best” went from being a sincere, understood, and appreciated superlative to a label meaning “common,” given there could be multiple “best” friends. From this humble, but significant, starting point several whole generations started the leveling process, forever removing the idea of something being super extraordinary and ushering in the mind-numbing era of everything from people to peanut butter being “the best ever.”
Gone are the days when good worked hard to be better, hoping to end up best. Gone are the levels of value that once helped us understand the necessity of gaining discernment so as to be able to choose the best from among the good and the better. And gone is any sense of legitimate logic when it comes to that grand element in the English language by which good, better, and best are actually distinguishable.
Ah, but perhaps I digress! What is really at question here is the extent to which we have allowed this linguistic malady to infect our ethical perspective. Simply put, if everything can be “the best ever” we have opened the philosophical door to two monumental monsters.
First, if “best” is now discerned, not by intrinsic value and proper comparison, but by one’s own emotional experience, we have so leveled the value scale that nothing can be held as inferior. Everything can be declared “best”, deserved or not.
Second, and much more problematic, when we take real value out of the equation, we fundamentally declare that objective truth no longer plays a role in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong, cute or ugly, and all the gradations along these and other spectrums.
But, the truth is, no wire whisk can ever truly be reckoned “the cutest thing ever.” I know because it is a fact my granddaughters are the cutest things ever. And so is my wife, and all my kids, and my friend’s puppies, and one of my student’s little car, and my new pen that writes upside down. I know because they are all BFFs and we share the best friendships ever.
Okay, okay, I’ll stop. Perhaps I’ve gone overboard, and just need to realize it is only a little thing to destroy part of the English language. After all, they really don’t mean what they’re saying, right? Maybe. But for now, I’m just asking you, my reader, to join my cause and help educate those around us regarding the proper use of superlatives. And if we can see some progress over the next few weeks, that would be the best Christmas present … ever.