Superlatives — Really?

The immense scope of this universe is unfathomable.  For some ancient reason, man seems unable to live with this fact and so thinks of life in a limited way.  Our language reflects this by using only three degrees of comparison to describe all phenomena, for example the positive such as good; the comparative such as better; and the superlative — such as best.

The word good is a comparative word being half of the dichotomy good and bad.  The word better is also a comparative word showing an increased quantity when held up against the word good.

It is the superlative degree, such as the word best, worst, greatest, et al,  which is the subject of this post.  I thought about titling this essay “Superlatives — Really?  I Try To Only Use Them In Context,” because in a universe of infinite potential, the superlative closes the door on the infinite and creates the philosophical concept of a closed set.  If that is the impression you intend to create when writing, then go ahead.  The superlative degree exploits not just a bias but more importantly our incapacity to accept and welcome the infinite.  Using the superlative degree in our language can be used as a tool, a tip off that we should be mindful whether we really are saying what we mean and more importantly understanding what we say.

18 thoughts on “Superlatives — Really?

  1. You may say, “the less of the two evils,” and less in that phrase would be comparative. Less and lesser are both used and in many cases mean essentially the same thing. However, remember the precise difference as mentioned in Grammar Slammer. Less suggests amount; lesser suggests degree. Still there’s more… In “a year less two months,” the phrase “less two months” is adjectival in nature and it modifies year. How can we just say that Less is an adjective to year. What is “a less year”? Just because we can say “two years minus a years” we cannot say that minus is an adjective to year, can we? Well, in the examples you gave both less and minus are adjectives. When using expressions of time or distance we often have adjectives reflecting amounts follow the noun that they modify. For example, “Koestler took four years to write his book. Orwell took a year less.” We do not say, “A less year.” We say, “A year less.” It does not change the part of the speech of less, only the idiom. Minus is an adjective. It comes from Latin where it is an adjective also.

      • There is definitely enough evidence of language molding us. The ideas that are molded by the language may then give rise to new words that mold us further. So, though going both ways, this phenomenon seems to be like entropy that is moving in the direction of molding us more and more?

        The only thing that can reverse this language entropy seems to be MINDFULNESS

        I hope you don’t mind me putting this link to an essay on my blog. It is better than posting the whole essay here. This essay is part of what I want to say in this post. The link simply provides me with a shortcut. I hope you don’t think that I am trying to promote my blog.

        I care for knowledge no matter where it comes from. I don’t own any knowledge. Yes, these are my ideas, but they can be challenged either on your blog or on mine. The purpose is to move forward in expanding the envelop of knowledge. The purpose is not to have some kind of one-upmanship.

        When discussing knowledge, it is best to set one’s ego aside as I explained here:
        Discussions and what needs to be avoided


      • The expanding sphere of considerations. I can see the build-up, the expansion. It seems to go on and on.

        I am curious whether my considerations have any significance to the universe. Am I molding it at all? Or is it just molding me?

      • Thanks Chris. You may post your links on my blog too. I have no problem with that.

        By the way, I just went to the movie THE MASTER. It is superb. It showed how beginning Scientology could be helpful, but then its application increasingly resulted in conditioning. I really liked the rendition. It is very sophisticated and well presented.

        In my view, beginning considerations are very significant, and later the considerations are, the less significant they become. But any consideration once held, limits the person because he must adhere to that consideration.

        What is universe but a consideration!


    • I don’t know Vinay. I wouldn’t have thought trying to create a blog and posting on others blogs would be so different but I am out of my element. I began posting on others blogs less than two years ago so I’m really just trying to get my feet under me and become centered… I guess the only way to start is to start and just make a lot of mistakes.

      The next degree? Not sure. This can be very time consuming and I am not using the wordpress tools very well yet.

      Any suggestions?

      • I was just playing with good, better, best… Yes, the superlative closes the door on the infinite. Does ‘infinitest’ or ‘most infinite’ also closes the door on infinite?

        I think that the word ‘infinite’ itself closes the door on infinite, because it is a ‘defined concept’. It is a consideration. Any consideration is defined. Anything defined (with limit) cannot be infinite (without limit).


      • I agree and I have what I think is a little different take on infinite. Math has helped describe to me how infinite may be encompassed as a subset of the finite. Another way of trying to describe this is that infinite is not the intuitive infinite that we were taught when children. To continue, my own example is that there is something and then there is something neverending outside of that.

        But doesn’t our experience show us that we have no knowledge of something outside of what we know?!? But the infinite, a mathematical concept and also a mathematical model when graphing the fractal, demonstrates to us that the infinite can be contained within the finite.

      • There are many other good models and examples of either infinite or potentially infinite around us in the world from a 2 meter long DNA code coiled within each nucleus of each cell in our bodies, to the fractal “crushing” of computer code to make it more compacted to save computer memory.

        Referring to your remark about the consideration limiting the infinite, I think our considerations simply gauge the depth to which we look. If we want to look deeper, either there is something to look at or somehow our minds conjur something more to look at.

        When I am stumped, I relax and give my mind permission to think counterintuitively. This works best for me to meditate on these things after a good night’s sleep and is my “best” trick for leveling my inconsistencies.

      • An ‘infinite’ can be a subset of a finite. Actually, it is finite too considering the dimension of the finite of which it is a subset. But it is infinite in a different dimension. For example. the interval 3 to 4 is finite when we consider the dimension as made up of integers, but ‘pi’ within this interval cannot be pinned down being an irrational number. That is a different dimension than that of integers. Please see Going Beyond Counting.

        Infinite simply mean ‘without limit’. Thinking of infinite as a very, very large number is a misconception. Here are my Comments on Infinity. The decimal places in ‘pi’ do not repeat in any pattern and they keep on going for ever. We can say that the number of decimal places in ‘pi’ are infinite.

        Here is another example of infinty: Infinity and Unknowable


        • We are never going to know that! (obviously! hahaha)

          On the other hand, maybe as-is’ing and leveling consistencies at its root isn’t what we think it is… These counterintuitive resolutions are both soothing and goading at the same time.

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