January 11, 2014

"Most Influential Person of China," "China Earthquake Rescue Hero," "Most Well-known and Beloved Chinese Role Model," "Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China," and "China’s Foremost Environmental Preservation Demolition Expert."

Phrases that appear on the business card of the billionaire Chen Guangbiao, the rich man who's trying to buy The New York Times. This isn't on the card, but he said in an interview, "I'm very good at working with Jews."

My main reason for blogging about this is his use of the word "Foremost" — "China’s Foremost Environmental Preservation Demolition Expert." "Foremost" was the word of the day on this blog 2 days ago, and Chen's usage underscores my point that there's something comical about that word.

By chance, I was just listening to a passage in an audiobook where the word turned up. The book is one of my favorites, Bill Bryson's memoir of childhood, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid."
In 1957, the movie Peyton Place, the steamiest motion picture in years, or so the trailers candidly invited us to suppose, was released to a waiting nation and my sister decided that she and I were going to go....

On the way there my sister told me that many of the characters in the movie—probably most of them—would be having sex. My sister at this time was the world’s foremost authority on sexual matters, at least as far as I was concerned...

“Do you know what sex is?” she asked...

“No, I don’t believe I do,” I said or words to that effect.

So she told me, in a grave tone and with the kind of careful phrasing that made it clear that this was privileged information, all there was to know about sex, though as she was only eleven at this time her knowledge was perhaps slightly less encyclopedic than it seemed to me. Anyway, the essence of the business, as I understood it, was that the man put his thing inside her thing, left it there for a bit, and then they had a baby. I remember wondering vaguely what these unspecified things were—his finger in her ear? his hat in her hatbox? Who could say? Anyway, they did this private thing, naked, and the next thing you knew they were parents.
So I'm making a tag for "foremost," and with this, I declare that I have become The World's Foremost Philosopher of Foremost.

ADDED: I'm not going to retrospectively add the tag to every post on this blog — The World's Wisconsin's Foremost 10-year-old Blog — but I did go back and look at them all. There are perhaps 20, and I think there's only one that's not inside a quote.

Of the quotes, by far the most common usage is in the phrase "first and foremost," which I'd recommend avoiding, since it's a cliché and a redundancy. For example, "I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process." (Click here to see who said that.)

The second most common usage is to avoid 2-word expressions like "most common" and "most important." For example, from an article about manboobs: "The foremost reason is the rise in obesity...."

The best usage of the word — to my ear — is to get a concrete image of something being in front of other things, which is what I did the one time it felt like the right word to me:
The 2008 election cannot be read as a mandate for health care reform, especially not for the aspect of it that is challenged in the current lawsuits: the  individual mandate to buy health insurance. That could not possibly have been foremost in the voters' minds. First, during the campaign, Obama spoke emphatically against it. And second, even after a year of talk about the reform, people don't really understand what the individual mandate is going to be.


Bob Ellison said...

I would argue that your title should be The World's Foremost Philosopher of "Foremost" (with quotes), since you're talking about a word. But you're also talking about a concept, so maybe you've got it right.

Your discussions on this word have made me wonder who ever deserves the title of "[a defined region]'s Foremost [attitude or whatever]".

Louis Armstrong was, I think, the world's foremost jazz musician.

Meade said...

I am the foremost one-woman man. My foremost skin is only for one, not for most.

Bob Ellison said...

In science-fiction-writer Larry Niven's universe, there is an alien people called Puppeteers that is congenitally fearful and careful in all respects. The most important person in the government is called the "Hindmost". It's difficult even to describe that position; I started writing "the leader" and "the head" and realized those words are totally wrong, in Niven's alien culture.

Ann Althouse said...

Contemplate the idea of excelling in "preservation demolition."

It makes me think of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Paco Wové said...

TMI, Meade.

Quaestor said...

This puts me in mind of the Ringworld series of science fiction novels by Larry Niven. A little off-topic background followed by the on-topic meat: The Ringworld is an artificial habitat in deep space, an enormous ring one million miles in diameter constructed around a Sol-like star, the inner surface of which forms a habitable environment many hundreds of thousands of times more expensive than the Earth's surface.

An important alien lifeform in the novels is the Pierson's Puppeteer, a highly intelligent space-faring creature which resembles a two-headed ostrich. Puppeteers are safety-obsessed cowards generally, consequently their most-admired are styled hindmost. The hindmost leader of the Puppeteers is never around when there's risk, is never at fault when things go awry (Complex projects are prone to failure, failure means risk, Risk implies danger... blah, blah.) And the hindmost can be counted on to follow the least risky course, therefore in committee the hindmost is more likely to vote present than take a stand.

Hmmmm... Do you think our president deserves the title foremost this or that, or would hindmost be more fitting?

Quaestor said...

Oops! While I typed Bob beat me to it.

betamax3000 said...

Patrick Bateman: New card. What do you think?

Craig McDermott: Whoa-ho. Very nice. Look at that.

Patrick Bateman: Picked them up from the printer's yesterday.

David Van Patten: Good coloring.

Patrick Bateman: That's bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Rail.

David Van Patten: It's very cool, Bateman, but that's nothing. Look at this.

Timothy Bryce: That is really nice.

David Van Patten: Eggshell with Romalian type. What do you think?

Patrick Bateman: Nice.

Timothy Bryce: Jesus. That is really super. How'd a nitwit like you get so tasteful?

Patrick Bateman: [Thinking] I can't believe that Bryce prefers Van Patten's card to mine.

Timothy Bryce: But wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet. Raised lettering, pale nimbus. White.

Patrick Bateman: Impressive. Very nice.

David Van Patten: Hmm.

Patrick Bateman: Let's see Paul Allen's card.

Patrick Bateman: [Thinking] Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh, my God. It even has a watermark.

Luis Carruthers: Is something wrong, Patrick? You're sweating.

Quaestor said...

Bob is correct that the "hindmost leader of the Puppeteers" is a fatally flawed concept. Perhaps one may say the hindmost is a leader in the sense of being the most influential member of his species. The rank-and-file Puppeteer seeks to emulate the Hindmost -- Whatever the Hindmost's opinion of this or that, that's my opinion too. What did the Hindmost have for breakfast? Sound delicious, gimme that too... The problem for the follower is discovering these things which he wishes to emulate. The Hindmost never expresses an opinion that amounts to such, because opinions are to prone to be erroneous; error implies risk, etc. Even laying eyes on the Hindmost is a problem. He's never alone, because that's risky, and he's never in company because history's assassins are usually nearby their victims. There always another Puppeteer block one's direct view of the Hindmost, except when the Hindmost is behind a tree.

betamax3000 said...

RE: "...get a concrete image of something being in front of other things..."

Cross reference To:

"Members of the Satanic Temple have unveiled their design for a 7-foot-tall statue of the devil they want to locate at the Capitol building in Oklahoma right next to a monument of the Ten Commandments that has stood since 2012."

Only "Right Next to", Not Foremost, Though. Sensitivity.

betamax3000 said...

Foremost Beatles reference: "uppermost in the poppermost."

This is What I Do.

Quaestor said...

Contemplate the idea of excelling in "preservation demolition."

I live in a comparatively ancient house (1866) with a bronze plaque beside the front door boasting it is such. Thanks to Global Warming (2 degrees F on Tuesday morning) two copper pipes burst. Just to expose the damage I had to demolish a four square foot section of the outer wall.

Quaestor is very familiar with the preservation demolition concept.

LTMG said...

Maybe Mr. Chen would claim also to be the most modest man in China.

Bob Boyd said...

There was time in my life when I may have been the world's foremost authority on sucking hind tit.

Quaestor said...

Maybe Mr. Chen would claim also to be the most modest man in China.

Preservation demolition isn't nearly the contradiction it seems to imply. I know this from bitter experience. However, foremost in modesty... now there's neuron-frying thought.

betamax3000 said...

"Help Us, China Earthquake Rescue Hero, Help Us!"

"Do Not Worry, My Crushed Compatriot: China Earthquake Rescue Hero will Lift the Broken Concrete From Your Body."

"You Truly Are a Hero, China Earthquake Rescue Hero!"

"Wherever There is an Earthquake in China, China Earthquake Rescue Hero Will Be There To Heroically Help His Fellow Man."

"China Earthquake Rescue Hero, You Are My Beloved Chinese Role Model."

"My Charisma is Indeed Heroic. Now -- in the Wake of This earthquake Disaster, I Must Utilize My Expert Powers of Environmental Preservation Demolition: You Might Want to Stand Aside."

"But My Legs Were Crushed By the Broken Concrete, China Earthquake Rescue Hero."

"Remember: I Am the Most Charismatic Philanthropist in China -- I Will Buy You Sturdy New Chinese Legs."

Thank You China Earthquake Rescue Hero!"

Quaestor said...

"Members of the Satanic Temple have unveiled their design for a 7-foot-tall statue of the devil..."

I saw a concept drawing of this proposal. It's a seated figure of a goat-headed Satan flanked by two children who gaze up at the Evil One in admiration and devotion.

At first I was outraged... the Devil is insulting enough, but kids?!!?... Then I calmed down and thought, well, yeah, kids admiring Satan is accurate.

Kids want stuff. They want what gives them pleasure. They want whatever gives them high status among their peers... I want that toy!... I want some candy, NOT that candy -- the big box!... A PS4?? That's for girls and gay kids. I want XBox... Nobody listens to Gaga anymore, she's so over. Gimme Miley!... Pizza!

Satan is the Universe's go to guy for getting what you want. He's the Infernal Foremost, better than Santa Claus (in reality one of HSM lesser imps) because Satan operates 24/7/365.

In contrast God is foremost is giving us what we need, at least that the current Party line. Let it be known I need a Tahitian vacation, in case the Heavenly Foremost reads Althouse.

lemondog said...

Most well known and beloved Chinese role model?

Seems to me some of his 'foremost's' would get him on the Politburo enemy list.

He is quite the entrepreneur:
Millionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao fights pollution by selling fresh air in a can

BTW appears like he is switching gears going for California's Bay Bridge rather than the NYT
Chen Guangbiao No Longer Buying New York Times, But Eyeing California Bridge Deal

Maybe Christie can offer him a deal.

Captain Curt said...

Bob Ellison said at 8:19am:

' The most important person in the government is called the "Hindmost".'

It's been 3 hours and no one yet has made the obvious reference, so I'll jump in with it:

Doesn't this perfectly describe our present "leading from behind" President?

Gahrie said...

It's been 3 hours and no one yet has made the obvious reference, so I'll jump in with it:

Quaestor 8:44

Will Cate said...

So... your preferred definition and usage of "foremost" is "frontmost?"

Edmund said...

"Foremost" pops up often in ads, much like "leading". Why? Because it is not quantifiable. If you claim to be the "highest in sales" store, you have to be able to back that up. To call your store "leading" or "foremost" you can have some bogus, hard to refute category that you claim excellence in.

gadfly said...

"With creameries closing during the Great Depression, Missouri-born businessman J.C. Penney bought a Jacksonville, Fla., creamery and named it after his prized Guernsey bull - Foremost - which grew into the longest milk route in the world and is now the choice name used by a [Baraboo, WI based] farmer cooperative."

So Foremost is nothing but bull.

Terry said...

Bryson sounds like Updike.