Byron's Babbles

It’s All Superlatives

Posted in Communication, Conversational Leadership, Educational Leadership, Leadership, Superlative by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on December 18, 2019

Have you noticed that we talk a lot in superlatives? Almost to the point that the superlatives don’t mean much. Or, we even use them incorrectly by saying something to one individual in a group we are in like, “You’re the best!” We have just told everyone else they are not the best. Using superlatives has become an important part of negotiating and making a case, but have we done this at the expense of good?

Are we beginning to see “good” as anything very good at all? Sometimes it seems that “premium” has become our new “basic.” It’s our starting point, so “good” becomes “less-than.” It is amazing what adding “est” to the end of a word can do. On the user side of superlatives, we can take advantage of the stronger meaning. But, as a leader we have to watch getting hoodwinked. In other words, have we, in many cases, made an objective comparison impossible?

As I understand it, there are web advertising platforms that won’t allow the use of superlatives unless there has been a third party evaluator confirm that something is the “world’s best” or “extremest.” These providers don’t want advertisers making claims that are demonstrably false. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that superlative means “surpassing all others – supreme.” Leaders need to care about and practice the quality, specificity, and power of our language.

If we use superlatives too much, we wash out the meaning. If we make every commonplace event out to be extraordinary, we actually make everything sound the same. So, we need to be careful that “awesome” continues to mean awe inspiring and “best” keeps its superlative meaning and doesn’t just become “good.”