An encyclopedia of superlatives

An encyclopedia of superlatives

New York Magazine on the little-knowable-ness of New York City:

Every time I visit, I go into a sort of spaced-out, semiconscious coma. From my God’s vantage point on the walkway that surrounds it, I feel like some all-seeing bodiless eye. I might think about where Walt Whitman stood when he wrote “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” look at where the Titanic might have docked had she made it. Often I’m amazed at how little I really know about this city I’ve lived in for 30 years. “What neighborhoods are those?” I wonder.

Not quite in a response to that bewilderment, they set out to create The Encyclopedia of Superlatives. Some favorites:

  • The greatest gatekeeper
  • The juiciest bit of scandal
  • The biggest mistake
  • The most entertaining correction

In grammar, the superlative of a word is the highest or greatest degree of that word. The state indicates that something is one notch to a greater degree than what it is being compared to in a given context. In English, it’s formed by adding -est to the given word or using “most”.

I’ve noticed another superlative. When I travel, no matter if to a new stop on the subway or a remote location, upon arrival, I search out the superlatives. I climb to the highest point, visit the oldest building, seek out the highest-rated coffee, venture to find the best view. What is it about seeking out superlatives?

I suspect they’re a ceiling or a baseline for what is. Looking down, over, up — a step beyond the comparative form, necessary for perspective. A perception typically reserved only for visitors.