There is no best but better

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Tweet by Thomas Packard:

Variant on Reddit:

No best only better products
byu/thereal1337man inengrish

John Green, Looking for Alaska

“there is no best and no worst, …those judgments have no real meaning because there is only what is”

Well, I'm the sort of person who can't help making comparisons:

good,  better, best

bad, worse, worst

Sometimes, though, my ability to compare is stymied, and I just give up say the comparanda are the same, or roughly the same.

[h.t. Michael Carr]


  1. Chips Mackinolty said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 6:21 am

    OK, I realise this is clearly and absurdly off target, but a southern Italian friend and I, dealing with such comparatives, and clearly tongue in cheek, came up with:

    Guda, Bedda, Bestissima!

    Which is, of course, nonsense.

    Guda, as the the way Italians will often pronounce "Good" when speaking English

    Bedda, the Sicilian for "Beautiful"

    and of course Bestissima as the invented superlative.

    It worked for us over a glass of Nero d'Avola.

  2. Francois Lang said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 8:43 am

    Slightly off topic here, but FWIW, I wonder if I'm the only person who thinks this but

    If I describe gentleman #1 as "an old man" and gentleman #2 as "an older man", in that context, "old" seems older than "older".

    @Chips Mackinolty: In the realm of Sicilian oenology, I prefer Nerello Mascalese to Nero d'Avola! But de gustibus, and all that.

  3. Bloix said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 11:05 am

    Perhaps you need to be focussing on the other slogan on the package: "Made in China."

  4. David C. said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 11:37 am

    This is a calque from the Chinese 沒有最好,只有更好. A bit like 沒有之一 (not one of the best, but THE best).

  5. Walter Underwood said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 4:17 pm

    When I was at Hewlett-Packard in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a common saying was "Standard is better than better." Things which were "enhanced" were often incompatible.

    HP sold over twenty different, incompatible versions of Enhanced BASIC. One friend was encouraging a variant meaning for "enhanced", as in "Someone enhanced my car's fender in the parking lot."

  6. Grant W. said,

    August 13, 2020 @ 7:50 pm

    This must be just me, but it took me a good while to realise how the phrase wasn't grammatical in English. It felt intuitive to interpret "there is no best" as something like "there is no point where we consider this the best [it can possibly be]" – not a bad slogan for constant improvement, and an ominous sign that my proficiency in my own language may be reducing as a result of learning Chinese.

  7. John Swindle said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 3:26 am

    We can say "perfect is the enemy of good" or "the best is the economy of the good" and attribute the saying to Voltaire or not, but we can't say "perfect are the enemies of the good" or "best are the enemies of the good."

  8. John Swindle said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 3:27 am

    Um, "… the enemy of good," not "the economy of good"!

  9. Doris said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 3:41 am

    Mathematically speaking, there are infinite sets that have a supremum (tightest upper boundary) but not a maximum. No single element is the best because you can always do better.

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    August 15, 2020 @ 7:15 pm

    That's simply because 'the best' is grammatically singular. I don't think any of the examples of actual usage violate that.

    I'd take the Apple slogan as syncopated for "There is no best, but there is always better" where 'best' means 'perfect'. I see nothing wrong with that.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 7:46 am

    And I should have noticed if I more carefully looked at the post that this clearly wasn't a genuine Apple thing. But, still, maybe by accident, it actually is grammatical, if awkward and ambiguous.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 8:26 am

    Bloix, what is the significance of « Perhaps you need to be focussing on the other slogan on the package: "Made in China." » ? Apple products are made in China (not all, but some), so why is the provenance an issue ?

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 8:59 pm

    Yes, but on a real product of Apple (or other US company) that 'Made in China' would be made as inconspicuous as possible. It's just one of the things that should alert you that it's not.

    Anyway, truly horrible English (as constructed) can lead to interesting grammatical points – I now agree that 'there is no best but better' is wrong even if a comma were added after 'best', in the (sensible) meaning I attributed. I have no idea what the _intended_ meaning was, if anything coherent.

  14. AG said,

    August 18, 2020 @ 9:59 pm

    Not sure I agree that it's wrong but wouldn't it easily be made un-wrong if you simply added quotation marks?

    There is no "best", but "better".

    As we all know, there is no singing school but studying monuments of its own magnificence…

  15. Andrew Usher said,

    August 19, 2020 @ 9:14 pm

    I don't know; it still seems to be more elision than can be tolerated. Changing 'but' to 'only' would of course make it acceptable.

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