Author Topic: Superlatives  (Read 5756 times)

pat

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Superlatives
« on: December 03, 2008, 10:37:16 PM »
I'm curious. How can words like 'nude' have superlatives? Nude means completely unclothed so how can one be nuder or nudest? Is a certain degree of skin-flaying required?

technomc

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2008, 12:33:45 AM »
Hi Pat,
If you do a search for this rather silly word, you will see it has been discussed before....with your comment repeated there....

It is stupid, but hey ho...so are lots of the other allowed words- what can i tell you???  :-\

pat

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2008, 05:35:50 AM »
Guess that must have been before I joined the forum, techno. I won't bother sharpening the knife then.

Alan W

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2008, 10:51:25 AM »
This was the previous note on the topic, Pat:

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The British National Corpus contains ... 408 examples using the word "nude", but only one with "nuder":

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Will Jeff Koons do for Sgarbi what he did for that other member of the Italian Parliament, the even nuder Cicciolina?


(We still don't really know how you can be nuder - possibly the other person was only partially unclad, not truly nude at all, but the use of nuder is valid in a jocular context.)

I see the issue of nuder and nudest was also discussed in 2001 in Barbara Wallraff's column in the Atlantic Monthly. She gives some examples that imply not everyone thinks nudity is an all-or-nothing state.

And here is an example using nudest from a 1999 New York Times article:

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The ''nudest dress,'' as the designer Jean Louis called it -- that skin-tight, flesh-tone, rhinestone-dotted gown that Marilyn wore to sing ''Happy Birthday'' to J.F.K. -- is reverently displayed in a room by itself, lit from above as though it were the Pieta or the David.

Hope that's stripped away some of the mystery, Pat.
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ellen fremedon

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2008, 12:14:49 AM »
Hi Pat,

I can't help but jumping in with an opinion on this topic from a linguist's perspective. Because "nude" is an adjective, we can add "-er" and "-est" to it, just as we can to all other regular adjectives. "Good," "better," and
"best" are partial exceptions, but even the latter two have "-er" and "-est" on the end! It doesn't matter, oddly enough, what the adjective actually means. It has to do with its form  (adjective) and not its meaning.

I'm sure that cleared things up (not)!

Ellen Fremedon

birdy

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2008, 12:48:29 AM »
Those answers are certainly uniquer than I expected!

rogue_mother

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2008, 01:25:12 AM »
I'm thinking that the comparative and superlative forms don't necessarily have to be meaningful to be valid. The usage may be more ironic in nature, as in Alan's example about Marilyn Monroe's dress. The expression "deader than a doornail" also comes to mind. We generally think that "dead" is an either/or condition (Miracle Max notwithstanding), but "deader" just gives the concept extra emphasis.
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biggerbirdbrain

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2008, 01:34:05 AM »
Due, undoubtedly to r-m's superiorer mind (despite her protests to the contrary)!  ;)

pat

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2008, 02:13:29 AM »
Well, I'm the mostest gob-smackedest I've been this week! Ellen's posting was interesting (and perhaps the very bestest) - it seems to imply that as long as we obey the rules of grammar we can talk whatever gobbledygook we like the mostest.  8)


Alan W

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2008, 10:30:20 AM »
Perhaps we need to distinguish between syntax errors (related to the rules of grammar) and semantic errors (related to the meanings of words).

Since the comparative and superlative apply only to adjectives and adverbs, it would be a syntax error to try using this construction on a noun: "bricker", "brickest". There are also rules - although they seem a bit vague - about when to add -er or -est (mostly on shorter words) and when to put more or most in front of a word (mostly with longer words).

However, the issue of whether a comparative or superlative is valid at all for a given adjective depends on the meaning of the adjective. And since word meanings are constantly evolving and proliferating, it's probably impossible to lay down any absolute prohibitions. Words can be used in metaphorical or whimsical senses, and exaggerated or paradoxical meanings can be expressed deliberately, for rhetorical effect.

It's probably true that most uses of "more perfect" or "most infinite" would be better expressed in different words, because the writer is using an adjective in a sloppy way, without being fully aware of its meaning. But this might be described as a weakness in writing style, rather than an "error".

A similar issue is the question of which nouns can take a plural. Some dictionaries label certain nouns as "mass nouns" or "uncountable", but it's hard to come up with an example of a noun that can never be used in the plural. Waiters place orders for soups, scientists talk about muds, and political commentators discuss ancient hatreds in - sadly - too many parts of the world.
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birdy

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2008, 10:36:16 AM »
Yes, even the old standbyes I was taught as a kid - like fish - maybe fishermen catch many fish, but scientists study the fishes.

biggerbirdbrain

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2008, 10:51:31 AM »
... and some people sleep with fishes!  >:D

birdy

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2008, 10:55:58 AM »
But unless you're talking about mermaids, that phrase requires the definite article.  Do you think that fish (or fishes) are attracted to the artificial reefs formed by the people with cement overshoes?

biggerbirdbrain

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Re: Superlatives
« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2008, 11:08:43 PM »
Oh, yes -- esp. if they're wearing shiny rings and watches!