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I often see text like "... has been a premier service provider for many years" in advertisements. Sometimes I'll see "Your premier SUCH AND SUCH" These strike me as nonsense phrases unless they were the first, or one of a few early, service providers.

Am I correct in my understanding of this phrase?

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Your dictionary probably mentions other meanings for 'premier'. –  Mitch May 4 '12 at 20:26
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closed as general reference by Mitch, Mahnax, Matt Эллен, Hugo, FumbleFingers May 4 '12 at 22:15

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You are confusing the word 'premier' with the word 'premiere'. I should emphasize that 'premier' refers to a status(a noun) like prime minister or top rank/importance(an adjective). The word 'premiere' used as a noun or a verb refers to a performance(usually the first).

So, usage of the word premier in those advertisements is correct and sensible.

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My dictionary gives premier as "first in importance, order, or position; leading…". So premier, used in that manner, is just fine.

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Not really. One meaning of the adjectival premier is indeed "first in time/occurrence", but another is "first in importance/rank". What these texts are saying, then, is that a service provider has been "first in importance" (or at least amongst the most important) for years, within its industry and in comparison to its competitors.

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Indeed. The British Prime Minister is often referred to as "Premier" because it's a shorter word to use in newspaper headlines. David Cameron is certainly not the first. –  Andrew Leach May 4 '12 at 20:18
@Andrew Really? I would think that's just ... wrong. That's not his title, and, to the best of my knowledge, Britain has no such title. France and Russia have premiers; Britain doesn't. I would think that would be like calling the U.S. President "the king" because it's shorter or you otherwise prefer it. –  Jay May 4 '12 at 20:34
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