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The blog post here uses the title

“Isn’t this just the cutest thing you ever did see?”

I am sure this is correct, but my question is, but what difference it would have made had he used the following version instead:

“Isn’t this just the cutest thing you ever saw?”

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"Isn't this just the cutest thing you have ever seen?" –  user10129 Jun 20 '11 at 23:03
    
@English_questionmark: I don't think the cutest thing you have ever seen is even in the running against you ever did see. If you're going to speak of cute things, you probably want to use 'cute' phrasing. –  FumbleFingers Jun 21 '11 at 1:06
    
possible duplicate of What is the difference in meaning between "I play" and "I do play"?. I know there's a slight difference in that "...you ever did see" is a dated formulaic expression, but that's fully covered by @Peter Shor's answer here. Everything else is better covered by Colin Fine's answer to the linked question. –  FumbleFingers Apr 17 '12 at 13:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is a formulaic expression in English, going back quite a while, that goes "the xxxxxest xxxx you ever did see. From Google books:

1666: the finest pile I ever did see — from Samuel Pepys' diary
1792: strangest reason perhaps you ever did or will hear
1799: the ugliest old creature I ever did see
1832: the highest tree prehaps you ever did see
1832: the drollest varmint perhaps you ever did see
1835: the primest piece you ever did see
1836: the most knowing-looking little bit of a horse you ever did see
1836: most genial islands you ever did see
1851: the greatest muss you ever did see
1866: we have got one of the gratis olde raskells for a Captain you ever did see
1884: the sickest little shaver you ever did see
1920: the best bunch of man-hunters you ever did see
1968: the biggest lock you ever did see
1973: the cutest thing that I ever did see
2000: the happiest child you ever did see

A substantial fraction of the Google hits for "you ever did see" follow this formula. My answer would be: there's no significant difference in meaning here; it's just an instance of this formula.

From Google books search, it appears to have increased in usage fairly abruptly in the 1830s. Did it really, and if so, where did this come from? The only thing that I can think of is the children's song. But there's no evidence this dates back to the 1830s.

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It is a 'formulaic' usage, but I think the prevalence of the actual word see is mainly just because that's the most likely one to fit the context. The strangest sound you ever did hear simply doesn't get so many chances to be spoken, but it sounds fine to me. I agree though - the main associations are 'poetic' cum 'nursery rhyme/fairy story'. So - good question - who started it? –  FumbleFingers Jun 21 '11 at 1:02
    
The children's song, despite what Wikipedia says, goes back to at least 1883. –  Peter Shor Jun 21 '11 at 1:16
    
This one is structurally the same format, from 1828, unless it really is Samuel Pepys words from 1665...books.google.com/… –  FumbleFingers Jun 21 '11 at 1:32
    
In the 1830's and the immediately following decades, the usages are predominantly American. This may have been around in American usage earlier, as I suspect the corpus of American writing may expand significantly sometime around then. –  Peter Shor Jun 21 '11 at 13:47

The first sentence uses a more informal, Southern United States syntax, so it has a different "flavor." For formal writing, the latter sentence feels more formal, professional, and grammatical. In terms of meaning, there is little real difference, even though the verb tenses are not the same.

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