For some time now I'm hearing more and more people saying "that's one of the more interesting things I've seen", "that's one of his better dishes", etc.

Even when talking about something very close to the top or something of a very small group, where there can't be more than one best, let alone more than one "better ones".

Did using the superlative to express ones interest, admiration or feelings in general go out of fashion?

To me as a non-native speaker it sounds like people using these phrases want to be too cool for the room, along the lines of "yeah it's good, but I've seen better."

Is there an explanation as to why this came about only recently (let's say 2-3 years), or has this been going on forever and my impression, that this is relatively new, is completely off?

closed as primarily opinion-based by MetaEd, Hot Licks, NVZ, tchrist, curiousdannii Jul 14 '16 at 7:40

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  • While it doesn't cover the last 2-3 years (or even the last 8 years), the google ngram viewer suggests that your perception may be slightly off (I doubt the relative frequency has changed that much in 8 years, but I suppose it might have): books.google.com/ngrams/… – phoog Jul 11 '16 at 20:09
  • I should've specified, that I was talking about spoken words and conversations (like podcasts, interviews and such). But that resource you pulled up is very interesting. Thanks for adding that. Edit: I added the speech tag. – Minix Jul 11 '16 at 20:29
  • Saying "one of his better dishes" could be more inclusive than "one of his best dishes". I might use "one of his better dishes" to mean it is in the top half of all his dishes; but others may use it with their own interpretations. – GEdgar Jul 11 '16 at 20:35
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    I think your impression is off—this is a perfectly common turn of phrase, and it's old enough that it is shared between most (all?) the Germanic languages. I have no evidence as such, but I have definitely not noticed any change in how people use this and the corresponding superlative construction: ‘one of the Xer’ and ‘one of the Xest’ seem to me to mean the same things and be used the same ways as always. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 11 '16 at 20:38
  • @GEdgar I see the difference in meaning, but since noticing that phrase (which I feel I've never heard before those 2-3 years) I've noticed an increase in its usage and a decrease in the use of superlatives. – Minix Jul 11 '16 at 21:04

The superlative has not gone out of style in speech.

In fact, superlative constructions like "one of his best" still outperform non-superlative constructions like "one of his better" in speech.

Here is some data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English, covering the period from 1990-2015.

First, compare occurrences in speech of "one of the more" versus "one of the most." You'll see that the latter vastly outperforms the former:

enter image description here enter image description here

In speech, the corpus has 5680 occurrences of the superlative construction, but only 465 of the non-superlative construction.

Second, compare occurrences in speech of "one of [possessive pronoun] better" versus "one of [possessive pronoun] best." You'll see that the latter outperforms the former:

enter image description here enter image description here

In speech, the corpus has 219 occurrences of the superlative construction, but only 20 of the non-superlative construction.

This kind of data suggests to me that from 1990-2015, the superlative is vastly more popular than its non-superlative variants.

Now let's compare the period of 2000-2004 and the period of 2010-2015. If you are correct, we should see a drop in preference for the superlative.

[NOTE: The following data reflects both spoken and written occurrences. This is a limit of the corpus's search when also restricting the search by dates.]

From 2000-2004, there are 5086 (spoken and written) occurrences of "one of the most" and 398 occurrences of "one of the more." Thus, the former is used about 12.78 times as frequently as the former.

From 2010-2015, there are 5425 (spoken and written) occurrences of "one of the most" and 436 occurrence of "one of the more." Thus, the former is used about 12.44 times as frequently as the former.

Both of these periods show about the same preference for the superlative over the non-superlative. I imagine that comparisons of similar constructions would show similar results. This data suggests that 2010-2015 has not seen less use of the superlative than 2000-2004.

  • Very well researched. I still can't shake the feeling, that I've never heard those phrases before and am hearing them a lot nowadays. But in light of the evidence, I have to believe, that it is merely confirmation bias on my part. – Minix Jul 12 '16 at 8:03

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