Hey! How was your Thanksgiving (or Thanksgivukkah)? Did you see any most incredible plays ever while you were watching sports? Was uncle Michael’s lemon merengue pie the best it’s ever been? Was mom’s stuffing the the most tasteless thing since cardboard was invented? And how about that day-after turkey sandwich: Ohmigod best sandwich ever, right? And was this the best Thanksgivukkah you ever had?
Okay, I’ll give you that last one. Most of us won’t live long enough to see another one. But the rest of that stuff? Listen to yourself for a minute. Think about it. Now please just stop it.
I tend to think that anyone who likes words has their pet peeve(s). We all know a rabid grammarian, or someone who believes that texting is ruining our language, or those who feel profanity is a lazy way to express elevated emotions. I have tried to stay out of the fray because I do support the evolution of language, enjoy neologisms, and feel that freedom of expression (lazy or not) is an important tenet of the United States. Unfortunately, I reached my tipping point this weekend, and I just can’t take it anymore with superlatives.
Though it is often forgotten, one of the most important purposes of any language is to convey information. If the meanings of words deteriorate to nothing, they can no longer do that. In our wired, sales and clicks driven, virtual experience, everyone gets a trophy world, superlatives -which I would argue are only useful for conveying information- have been co-opted to make emotions seem bigger when so much communication is not face-to-face; and are used to generate (false) excitement and curiosity for marketing anything from an idea to an actual product.
It’s all fun and games until you have to decide between all of the bests. And then it becomes pretty clear that words which were once meant to connote superior quality, and perhaps reliability, are utterly meaningless.
Let me be clear, I don’t begrudge anyone their individual opinion. With the year’s end coming up, I will read many Best Books or Best Movies of 2013. I am perfectly happy with these designations. They are the opinion of that editor/blogger/guy on the barstool next to me, and delimited in time. My primary objection is the substitution of “Oh this is the best manicure I’ve ever had!” for real data about what made the experience so positive. This could be anything from really hitting it off with the nail artist, to having your best friend come along, to finally having nails long enough to manicure because you kicked the habit of biting them. Any of those statements reveal more about you as a person, allow you to express your real self, and might get you more of what you want. “Oh this is the best manicure I’ve ever had!” Might get you a proud smile from the nail artist and maybe a gift certificate from the bestie who came with you. “Mark, this manicure was much more fun because you came with me and helped me pick the color. It really means a lot to me and was a real treat.” Might actually get Mark to come with you again to get a manicure at some point, which is really what you want.
My other objection is anyone saying anything is the best/worst ever, ever. None of has been and I think it’s pretty unlikely that any of us will be around for ‘ever.’ So just quit it. If you are under the age of twelve, I will cut you some slack. And at any age, if you have never experienced x phenomenon, I will allow “X is the best _________ I ever had.” But if I hear you use it every time you have that experience, I’m going to call your bluff and ask if it was actually better than the last one.
English is a very expressive language. So take a moment to think of the words that will make it clear to others what you really mean. With this simple act, you will share something of yourself, and when others actually understand you they can more deeply share your emotions. And if you’re wondering if any store is actually having the best sale ever! Or, The only and biggest sale of its kind! Just think back one holiday cycle and see if they didn’t use the same empty words.