The American Heritage Dictionary reads

Anyone is often used in place of the more logical everyone in sentences like

  • She is the most intelligent person of anyone I know.

In our 2017 ballot, the Usage Panel accepted it 55 percent to 45 percent, while rejecting the supposedly correct alternative

  • She is the most intelligent person of everyone I know.

69 percent to 31 percent.

Presumably an idiomatic reading, “compared to any single person I know,” outweighs the literal reading “out of all the people I know.” The implication of a one-by-one mental comparison may explain why the expression survives.

However, I find the explanation contradictory, because the meaning "of everyone I know" is also on the lines of “out of all the people I know.”

Also, I can't fully grasp what the author means by a "one-by-one mental comparison."

  • I believe thar the "one by one mental comparison" means that, of all the people the speaker knows he is comparing the intelligence of the one being compared only with the most intelligent of the rest and ignoring the ones of average or low intelligence because they are in a larger category. If he was talking about physical height he would only need to compare a 2 metre tall person with the people over 1.8 m, say (or people taller than himself) because all the others are obviously shorter. – BoldBen Sep 10 '20 at 16:36
  • Is crossposting or non-attributed posting [Wordreference.com_forum] allowed on ELU? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '20 at 9:50
  • << Presumably an idiomatic reading, “compared to any single person I know,” outweighs the literal reading “out of all the people I know.” >> I'd rewrite as << Presumably the echo of an idiomatic reading (“compared to any single person I know”) outweighs the appeal of the more logical shortened form of the literal reading “out of all the people I know.” >> and << And 'any' points more to the/each individual within a set, 'every' to the whole set composition.>> – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '20 at 10:05

The anyone/everyone difficulty is interesting. If John is the tallest of the group of everyone I know, his height exceeds that of all other members of that group. That being so, his height exceeds that of any one of the group; he is taller than any one of the group.

This argument leads to the notion that he is the tallest of everyone, and taller than anyone. These alternatives read well but when applied to intelligence the proper use of comparatives fails us. To say He is the more intelligent of anyone ..., although logically justified, is ungrammatical, inelegant or pedantic. GJC makes a good suggestion about this inelegance - it would read better as "He is more intelligent than anyone ...". The Heritage Dictionary folk seem to have overlooked the most/more, tallest/taller issue in their discussions.

If I make a one by one mental comparison of all those I know, my mind ranges (or at least tries to range) over each of them so as to select the most intelligent (or whatever quality is in question). It is rather like the physical comparison of looking at a city skyline and selecting the highest building, but no such physical line up of intelligent people is possible so it has to be attempted mentally.

  • 2
    he is the more intelligent of anyone, shouldn't it read either more intelligent THAN anyone or the most intelligent of everyone? – GJC Sep 11 '20 at 8:44
  • I like your simplification and have marked it up. If only the Heritage people had thought like that! – Anton Sep 11 '20 at 9:36
  • No, you still haven't corrected 'To say he is the more intelligent of anyone, although logically justified ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '20 at 9:46
  • @Edwin I am sorry to argue that I don't need to correct it. I did not change the pointer to the inelegance and have merely added GJC's improvement in that context. I have made slight changes to the layout so as to make this clearer. Thank you. – Anton Sep 11 '20 at 9:53
  • 'He is the more intelligent of anyone' is ungrammatical and will soon attract a downvote. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '20 at 10:31

The heart of the issue is whether “anyone I know” refers to an individual or to a group.

“Everyone I know” is clearly a group of people, so there is no logical issue with picking an individual from that group.

On the other hand, “anyone I know” refers - superficially, at least - to a single individual. Parallels include “anything in the store” (a single unspecified item) or “anywhere but here” (a single unspecified location). This explains the dictionary’s reference to “everyone” being a more logical choice in the given context.

The follow-up comment about a “one-by-one” comparison builds on this. To retain the ‘single individual’ character of “anyone”, the phrase “of anyone I know” isn’t expanded to a group. Instead of collecting all the “anyone”s to do a comparison, the idea is that you are invited to pick an individual for the comparison. Which individual? Well, just go through them all one by one and pick the ‘best’. It uses the same singular/plural distinction between “you can have anything in the shop” and “you can have everything in the shop”.

The broader question is whether the superficial singularity of “anyone” has drifted idiomatically to a plural notion. Popular usage suggests that it has, but the dictionary’s editors evidently feel that the plural underpinnings of “anyone” is shaky. I’d be inclined to agree, but it’s anyone’s guess as to when or whether this singular will subsume the plural.

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