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If you're a critic—especially an amateur critic—especially making "best of" or "ten best" lists—especially on the internet—you have to be consonant with what I call "the ludicrous intensifier." Human beings—big, dear apes—are much susceptible to intimations of glory, and ludicrous intensifiers can make us thrill to our master-species greatness like Taber, Christopher Lloyd's character in the movie version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, seized by a sudden rush of awe.
The most common ludicrous intensifiers are in recorded history, as in "the ten best symphonies in recorded history," or that money can buy, as in "currently the most awesome 911 that money can buy," or in the world (now more popularly on the planet), as in "the hottest new soap star on the planet." (Note that "star" itself is, or was originally, a ludicrous intensifier.) Ludicrous intensifiers are more nicely ludicrous when they're used with things that are by definition geographically or temporally limited. Take for instance "one of the most awesome dunks of all time." When you think of it, that doesn't quite make sense, does it, in that basketball has only been played for 121 years and dunking has only been popular for part of that time. And the writer can't possibly have seen all of the awesome dunk contenders. Or consider "the ten best Southern rock bands on the planet"—as if there were Southern rock bands in the Philippines or coastal Madagascar that, when stacked against the power of Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, just plain don't make the cut.
I like ludicrous intensifiers—they seem so indicative of human nature. And writers tend to sprinkle them about indiscriminately, which can lead to some delightfully thoughtless constructions; a particularly nice one I ran across once was a list called "The best '70s sitcoms of all time." Yeah!
I also like it when somebody figures out that "on the planet" is needlessly limited, and works it out that a category could be extended to the rest of the Solar System without challenge, or indeed that nobody could prove them wrong if they claimed dominance of the entire Universe. That gives us gems such as "the best hair band in the known Universe." Although that last leaves a door open, you perceive—there might be a hair band way, way out there that we don't know about yet.
So: "The ultimate The Smiths remasters collection." ("Ultimate" as an intensifier has an edge of dismay: you sure there will never be a better one, at any point in the future? Before the sun expands and becomes a red giant? This is the peak? It's all downhill from here?) All eight CDs have "been taken back to original tape sources and remastered by master-engineer Frank Arkwright, assisted by Johnny Marr at the world famous Metropolis Studios in London. Each album packaged in a mini-LP replica sleeve complete with the original artwork, including gatefolds and inner sleeves where relevant."
And who were The Smiths? Only the best '80s alt band of all time, and the greatest indie pop band from Manchester U.K. in the entire Universe.
And that, my friends, is no exaggeration.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Mark Roberts: "I find 'ultimate' to be a particularly annoying intensifier when misused. Near where I lived in Pittsburgh there was a place that billed itself as 'the ultimate retirement home.' Every time I walked by I expected to see a funeral parlor...."
Mike replies: Yeowch! That's a good one. Or bad, depending on your perspective.