first ever!

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jul 20 01:15:47 UTC 2009

For more ambiguities of "the first" kind, see these Language Log posts:

On Sun, Jul 19, 2009 at 7:34 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> At 6:39 PM -0400 7/19/09, Victor wrote:
> >Just wanted to share this headline:
> >
> >>>Edmonton lab gets first ever Japanese Microscope
> >
> >
> >For me, "first ever" means that it did not exist before. Not so for this
> >Canadian headline--these microscopes have never been built or operated
> >outside of Japan, but they've certainly been in existence in Japan for
> >some time.
> >
> >    VS-)
> >
> I'm not sure it has that reading for me, or not exclusively.  Given
> that the headline is, I assume, elliptical for "(An) Edmonton lab
> gets its first ever Japanese microscope", and not for "...gets the
> first ever Japanese microscope", it's no odder in principle than
> "Nolan Ryan Pitches Seventh No-Hitter", which would be universally
> interpreted as describing the 7th no-hitter thrown by Ryan, not by
> anyone ever.  Or "Elizabeth Taylor Weds 5th Husband".  But what of
> "Baby Takes First Steps Ever"?   There are 28K "first steps ever"
> hits on google, many of which would lend themselves to such a
> headline (assuming the headline writer is a parent of the child in
> question). Or
> "US inaugurates first black president ever"
> which I think is compatible with there having been black presidents
> of, say, countries in Africa (*its* first, not *the* first, once
> again).
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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