That’s just super

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

This famous first line begins with the comparison “best and worst” and goes on to weigh up “wisdom and foolishness,” “belief and incredulity,” “Light and Darkness,” “the spring of hope and the winter of despair,” “everything and nothing,” “Heaven and the other way,” and “good and evil.” What struck me on reading this anew is the fact that the nearly all of polarities Dickens presents are the not the traditional adjectives and adverbs one sees in textbook lists of opposites – although those are represented through “best” and “worst” – but instead are abstract nouns. Yet, he ends the sentence by mentioning the notion of “superlative,” a notion, along with “comparative,” that applies only to adjectives and adverbs and in most cases, at least for one-syllable words, involves morphological changes, for example “early, earlier, earliest” or the irregular “good-better-best.”

We are fascinated by superlatives, the Wikipedia has 251 lists of the biggest, the longest, etc., particularly in the US where it is quite easy to find a diner advertising “The World’s Best Coffee,” a roadside attraction that is the largest you-name-it and where we watch two teams play in the “Superbowl.”

While the people in German speaking countries might not make as many superlative claims, German does offer you a prefix, aller-, to express that something is “the X-est of all” or “the single most X.” One might call it the “superlative of superlatives!” Thus the Allergrößte is “the mother of all…” or “the biggest/greatest/largest of all.” The Allerschönste is “the most beautiful of all.” The Allererster is “the very first [ever]” (typically describing the first person to do something). With allermeisten you can say “the vast majority” in just one word. In addition, aller– is the only prefix that can be used to form adverbs from adverbs; canoo.net lists six such words, three of which are allerbesten “the best of all,” allerfrühestens “at the very earliest” and allerwenigstens “at the very least.”

I also like this trio of words which give you a way to modify verbs: gernlieberam liebsten.

Ich höre gern Klassik – “I listen to classical music with pleasure”
Ich höre lieber Folk – “I prefer to listen to folk music” or “I get more pleasure when I listen to folk music”
Ich höre am liebsten Blues – “I get the most pleasure when I listen to Blues”

or, in other words, meine Lieblingsmusik ist Blues – “My favorite music is Blues!” I hope that one of your favorite things is reading about learning German on Earthquake Words.

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4 thoughts on “That’s just super

  1. crissa says:

    It is quickly becoming one of my daily articles–and I am enjoying it. I don’t speak a single word of German!

  2. kwhirsh says:

    I love hearing that not speaking any German isn’t a hindrance to enjoying the blog – not speaking doesn’t seem to be a huge hindrance to writing it either ;-D!

  3. […] I’d wondered about given the ability in German to verstärken almost everything, including superlatives. What, is that ganz genau, I hear you […]

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