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Most. Tiresome. Trope. Ever.

This appeared in the paper the other day:

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Then, a few days later, I came across this Web posting:

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(And by the way, the New York Post’s effort here does meet the standards of a good tabloid headline, though “And the Banned Played On” would sound exactly the same as the title of the 1895  song, and thus would be even better.)

More examples could be garnered, but you get the point. The formulation “Best. Noun. Ever.” is in the air.

Where did it come from, and is there any chance it will go away? Most discussions of this expression (which fits the definition of a snowclone) note the seminal influence of the Simpsons character Comic Book Guy. The amazing Web site TvTropes notes:

In the eleventh season’s “Saddlesore Galactica” [February 6, 2000], Comic Book Guy criticizes the episode, which recycles old plots and character traits. … As the episode proceeds, he wears a “Worst Episode Ever” shirt. When the credits end at the Gracie Films production logo, he says, “Worst. Episode. Ever.” Appropriately enough, the twelfth-season episode “Worst Episode Ever” centers around Bart and Milhouse taking over Comic Book Guy’s store after he suffers a cardiac episode (a heart attack). Which CBG refers to as, of course, “Worst episode ever.”

“Saddlesore Gallactica” seems to have had a huge impact on the screenwriter Steven Zaillian. At least according to this possibly sketchy site, in a “production draft” for the film Hannibal, dated February 9, 2000—just three days after the episode aired—Zaillian put the phrase in the mouth of his own comic-book-store proprietor. He also took the critical step of inserting a period after each word, presumably to simulate The Simpsons’s Comic Book Guy’s delivery.

CUSTOMER
	December you mean -

		PROPRIETOR
	No, not December.  November.  Volume
	Four, Number Four.  Worst.  Issue.  Ever.

Backing up a bit, there are a few separate things going on with “Superlative. Noun. Ever.”, which I will  henceforth abbreviate as S.N.E. The first is the pause for emphasis between words. This was surely a venerable device in oratory (in existence, at any rate, long before being immortalized by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk). A key development was mimicking such a cadence by means of punctuation. Andrew Smith, a Language Log commenter, unearthed an 1851 passage from The Southern Literary Messenger.

We once saw a beautiful hand writing so distinct that it could be read as easily as print which possessed the remarkable peculiarity of having a full stop after every word. We have often thought there was some analogy between it and Mr Randolph’s style of speaking as it presented itself to our observation in the Convention. He was not contented with making you understand the general meaning of a sentence, he made you remark every word that composed it with as much clearness as though he meant to speak that one word and no other.

S.N.E. also employs a particular meaning of the word ever. The relevant definition in the OED is:  ”Qualifying a superlative (usu. an adjective) = ever known, experienced, etc.; ‘on record’. orig. U.S.” The first citation, from O.Henry’s “The Coming-Out of Maggie” (1906), suggests the slightly juvenile, or at least youthful, feel of the usage: “Anna and Maggie worked side by side in the factory, and were the greatest chums ever.” Barbara Robinson used it in the title of her 1971 book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which was so successful that the theatrical version is still being performed by children’s troupes around the country. (My daughter Elizabeth Yagoda was in one not that many years ago.) [Update: A commenter points out that children's author Richard Scarry came before Robinson, with Best Nursery Rhymes Ever, in 1964, and several other titles in the same form.]

When did worst enter the picture? Possibly via the Alt.tv.simpsons usenet group, which is dedicated to discussing the show, and where “worst episode ever” (no periods) became a go-to catch phrase starting no later than 1993 (which means that the show’s writers fiendishly used Comic Book Guy to mock the show’s fans). In 1994, a Chicago Sun-Times writer gave us, ”Meet Ed Wood. But don’t knock him. Even if he is known as the worst film director. Ever.”

In 2004, VH1′s popular comedy show Best Week Ever cemented best-noun-ever in the pop-culture consciousness. The first use I’ve been able to find of the full S.N.E., periods included, is from Men’s Health later that some year: ”Biggest. Idiot. Ever.”

Then it was out there. In 2005, Entertainment Weekly had the headline, ”Strangest. Amazing Race. Team. Ever.” Then in 2006, a New York Times “Modern Love” essay by Francine Maroukian had this:

I proclaimed, “This is the best summer ever,” and he agreed. It’s silly, but sometimes coming out of a late-night movie, we would smile at each other and chant, “Best. Summer. Ever.”

That phrase was the metaphor for what was really happening between us.

A Chicago Sun-Times review the following year was already treating the expression as a borderline cliché: “It may not be the Best. CD. Ever. But it’s pretty damn good nonetheless.”

OK, that was six years ago. By now all rhetorical juice has been drained from this formulation’s self-conscious juvenile hyperbole. So Give. It. A. Rest.

 

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