Take the Superlative

“Take the superlative, which has become the placebo of mass journalism, written and oral. The superlative seems transparent and harmless. How does it corrupt? By the insidious suggestion, which is soon common belief, that among all the things that fill the world the only notable specimens are six: the first, the last, the largest, the smallest, the oldest, and the youngest, Journalistic art consists in making every story a vehicle for one of these mental aphrodisiacs… But surely everybody takes this with a grain of salt? Not at all: there is not enough salt on earth. To the unprotected mind, even though ‘advanced,” only the superlative deserves attention. One observer has with good reason called this ‘The Paragon Complex.'” (Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect)