English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

From The Silence of the Lambs (1988):

"Marilyn Sutter saw it upstairs. Chilton was blowing off about "The Search for Billy Rubin." Then he went to dinner with a television reporter. That's where he was when Lecter took a walk. What a pluperfect asshole."

While I am aware of the pluperfect tense, the above usage of the word strikes me as rather exotic. ODO only lists the grammatical definition in its British English reference. But it provides an additional definition under its American English entry:

[as modifier] more than perfect:

they have one pluperfect daughter and are expecting an ideal little brother for her

Webster defines its alternate sense as utterly perfect or complete along with a note on its origin:

late 15th century: from modern Latin plusperfectum, from Latin (tempus praeteritum) plus quam perfectum

I'm curious as to how this odd-sounding construction made its way from the grammar book into common parlance. Is it used in this sense only in the US? Is it still in use?

(Although I see it used in other languages, I believe that pluperfect is no longer the term of choice in English grammar.)

share|improve this question
If your question is how pluperfect made it in to common parlance - I don't think it has. This is not common usage, just authorial choice. – Mark Beadles Oct 26 '12 at 12:39
@MarkBeadles This sense is noted in every dictionary that I've checked thus far. Also, as you can infer from the excerpt, it is used in colloquial dialogue. – coleopterist Oct 26 '12 at 12:40
Interesting! I wasn't aware it was being used that way very often. Fair enough - now I'm curious, too. – Mark Beadles Oct 26 '12 at 12:45
I think it is a reasonable -literal- rendering of the word, and so not unlikely for writers to be a little creative and use it so (without having any prior cultural history). – Mitch Oct 26 '12 at 13:02
What @Mitch said. OED notwithstanding, many or even most such usages could effectively be "coinages" by the writer at the time, since both the construction itself and the intended meaning are so obvious. – FumbleFingers Oct 26 '12 at 18:50
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The OED's adjectival sense A2b is:

hyperbolically. Utterly perfect; ideal, faultless.

And has citations from 1832 to 1992, from both US and UK sources, the last two from Noel Coward's Diary (1965) and Newsweek:

  • It was a perfect, pluperfect, evening; absolutely clear and not a breath of wind.

  • While Johnny [Carson] may have been his own best guest, he was also the pluperfect guest.

Sense A3 is:

colloq. As a general intensifier.

With citations from 1889 to 2000, all from the US, the last from Play World:

The pleasure of living fully, including the alternative to unbutton and raise pluperfect hell.

There's also the obsolete sense A2a, with 1802 and 1856 citations from British magazines:

Having or being more than what is needed; superfluous. Obs.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.