March 13, 2016

"I’ll advance a superwild hypothesis for why [the word 'super'] has taken off in this country..."

"... that in the land of the Super Bowl, of superstars in every discipline and their droves of superfans, of countless superheroes..., of the superrich who rule the uncontested superpower of the world, super is tied to American exceptionalism and its own sense of superiority. While it is true that many Europeans say super in their tongues and ours — the French, in particular, have a fondness for it — it doesn’t seem to be as rampant as it is for American English speakers. On its own in a Google Books Ngram search, super bottoms out in 1902 before elevating unchecked from 1910 to 1931, then again from 1940 to its peak in 1947 — both periods of growing American ascendancy. Perhaps, too, there was a need to buck up the troops during wartime with words of encouragement and optimism."

Writes novelist Teddy Wayne, who fits the mood of the Obama administration, which seems to have actively sought to dispel exceptionalism and deflate our sense superiority. Despite the old posters that said HOPE, Obama invited us to mature beyond our need for encouragement and optimism. Don't buck up. Buck down.

ADDED: This post needs a little musical accompaniment:



AND: How is it Teddy Wayne failed to mention superdelegates?! From last night's cold open on "Saturday Night Live," Larry David as Bernie Sanders expresses his annoyance when he's prodded by "Jake Tapper" with "You may have won Michigan, but Hillary still leads you in delegates and superdelegates":
Can I ask just something? What's a superdelegate? Who calls themselves that? It's so cocky. They walk around like they're such big shots. Ooh! I beg your pardon, Mr. Superdelegate. Let me tell you something. I've met some of these superdelegates. They're not so super. Mediocre delegates is more like it.

28 comments:

Oso Negro said...

At least Trump and Cruz both love America.

Meade said...

Make America Super Again!

EDH said...

The piano was a "Felcher & Sons".

Bob Boyd said...

"Obama invited us to mature beyond our need for encouragement and optimism" in the same sense that Dr Kevorkian invited his patients to mature past the need for encouragement and optimism.

rehajm said...

Super is successful as a prefix and as a standalone word.

-tacular only works as a suffix.

Phil 3:14 said...

I've never heard Trump, who obsessively uses adjectives, use "super". In spite of the perception that " huuuuuge" is his go to adjective, I hear him use "beautiful" way too often.

We should nickname Mr. Trump, Ray as in Ray Stevens.

rhhardin said...

Superfetatiousness.

Fernandinande said...

Google Books Ngram search

Except for a couple of spikes in the 1800s, "super" usage is actually relatively flat, esp if you turn off smoothing. Just about any other word shows more variance, e.g. compare it to "hope".

khematite@aol.com said...

And if you lived in an apartment building, even the lowly janitor was usually called "the super."

Bob Ellison said...

"Super" is so attached to "Superman" that it can't launch on its own as a free word or prefix.

Kinda like "graft". You don't hear it unless it's "graft and corruption".

MayBee said...

Someday we'll figure out why we consider it greater art, or more serious writing or thinking, to be a downer.
We look at film that way and books that way. Many people craved Obama because despite all of his "Hope" rhetoric, he spoke an "eh, America isn't really so special" message. We (or the "thinkers") allow only musical theater to be uplifting.

I suspect it's because so many of our artists and novelists are clinically depressed or take recreational depressants. We don't need to embrace that.

mikee said...

Obama pulled a great rhetorical trick in expressing his desire to eliminate American exceptionalism. He misdefined exceptionalism as "success over time" rather than its prior meaning of the citizens' grant of authority as the basis for government.

The exceptionalism of the US is that individual rights have higher priority by law than government authority, unlike everywhere else on earth, and the consent of the governed can be withdrawn from government.

When Obama says the US should be more like other countries, he means individual rights should not override government authority, nothing more, nothing less. It is a statement of pure evil.

Ann Althouse said...

"Man and Superman" must have had an effect. It came out in 1903. 

The word comes from Nietzsche:

"Another singular feature of Zarathustra, first presented in the prologue, is the designation of human beings as a transition between apes and the "Übermensch" (in English, either the "overman" or "superman"; or, superhuman or overhuman. English translators Thomas Common and R. J. Hollingdale use superman, while Kaufmann uses overman, and Parkes uses overhuman. Martin has opted to leave the nearly universally understood term as Übermensch in his new translation). The Übermensch is one of the many interconnecting, interdependent themes of the story, and is represented through several different metaphors. Examples include: the lightning that is portended by the silence and raindrops of a travelling storm cloud; or the sun's rise and culmination at its midday zenith; or a man traversing a rope stationed above an abyss, moving away from his uncultivated animality and towards the Übermensch."

Ann Althouse said...

By the way... Uber.

Could be annoyed at that too.

Titus said...

I love Big Gay Al!

And I am super, thanks for asking!

In the office currently doing some prep for tomorrow, then walking to the gym, walking over Mass Ave Bridge, going to the Esplanade to read, then back over the Mass Ave Bridge, yoga class, Whole Foods, Dry Cleaning, hang outside with rare clumber, dindin with friends.

Have a super day everyone.

Make it a great day and make America great again too!

tits.

dbp said...

When I read Nietzsche I never liked translations that used "superman", because it seemed to imply great abilities like strength or intellect.

What Nietzsche meant (in part) was a man who is free from obsolete notions of morality.

Laslo Spatula said...

There is only ONE True Super: Schneider.

Duane Schneider: Always remember, and please never forget: A man is like a bow-and-arrow, and a woman is like a target. Bow-and-arrow needs practice. Target doesn't.

Didn't realize that Pat Harrington Jr died this past January.

A moment of silence, please.

I am Laslo.

dustbunny said...

I think of Warhol when I hear the word super, everything was super so nothing, in the end, was. It was deflationary.

Fernandinande said...

AA "Man and Superman" must have had an effect. It came out in 1903.

The real "Superman" was born in 1938; having read only about 10 sentences of Nietzsche's, I was surprised to see that "Superman" was rather popular before 1938. "overman" ("an overseer") goes way back, mostly pretty flat.

Here's an Overman at Burning Man

Michael said...

American exceptionalism is not the same thing as a feeling of superiority. America is exceptional because it is the only country (except perhaps the old Soviet Union!) expressly founded on a set of ideals, in our case those of the Declaration and the Constitution. Other countries are based on geography, ethnicity, language, or culture, or result from various dynastic or colonial upheavals. Lots of people think their way of life is "better" than anyone else's, but that's a different sense of "exceptional."

David said...

I recall a time when people would say "Oh, super," with a tone of mild despair. (Can despair be mild?)

Anyway, it meant "that's bad." Usually used in reaction to a series of bads.

Charlie Currie said...

David said:

"I recall a time when people would say "Oh, super," with a tone of mild despair. (Can despair be mild?)"

The British say, "Brilliant," meaning good. We say, "Oh, brilliant," with the same tone of mild despair.

jaed said...

That SNL skit strikes me as something Trump might say, not so much Bernie. (The actual Trump, not the SNL Trump.)

CatherineM said...

Coincidence. . I watched Saturday Night Fever last night. Name dropping Stephanie ("Eric Clapton was in the office today") is moving into Manhattan with help from Tony. Stephanie's friend from work, a much older man corrects her when she says super. "No one says super anymore." I thought that was funny.

tim in vermont said...

According the the NFL, the name Super Bowl was based on a toy in the sixties, I had one, called a super ball. It was a very high bouncing ball and clearly was named to invoke Superman, not sure if he was named for Nietzsche's "ubermensch," but it is a possibility.

madAsHell said...

I was on an airplane headed for Los Angeles, and seated next to two very attractive 30-something women. I think they were buyers for a department store. They were reviewing pictures of clothing on their computers. When they found something appealing, one would say "cute", and the other would respond "super cute".
"Cute". "Super cute".
"Cute". "Super cute".
This went on for the whole two and a half hour flight.

Ann Althouse said...

"According the the NFL, the name Super Bowl was based on a toy in the sixties, I had one, called a super ball. It was a very high bouncing ball and clearly was named to invoke Superman, not sure if he was named for Nietzsche's "ubermensch," but it is a possibility."

(Man starts) I'm gonna buy you a Chevrolet (x3) if you'll do something for me, uh hunh, if you'll do something for me(Woman answers) I don't want your Chevrolet (x3) and you can't do nothing for me, nooo, you can't do nothing for me...diamond ring......cutting board... ...paper boat... ...paper cigar......Superball...(Final answer) I'll accept your Superball (x3) and you can do something for me anytime, you can do something for me...

traditionalguy said...

This post was both superior and superb.