first ever!

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 20 02:55:50 UTC 2009

At 10:08 PM -0400 7/19/09, Mark Mandel wrote:
>ISTM that Victor's point hinges on the perception that the "ever" in "first
>ever" always serves to stress that the NP is the absolute first of its kind
>in that context. Given that perception, the word's use here overrides the
>latitude we normally allow for elliptical headlines(e) and amounts to an
>apparent reference to the first Japanese microscope that ever existed.
>That's how I read it too.
>m a m

How about this one, from the first page of g-hits for "first ever":

"First ever size 16 girl reaches Miss England final"

Turns out the young lady in question was not in fact the first ever
size 16 girl, just the first one to reach said final.

A domestic (U.S.) example:
First-Ever Layoffs Loom at Postal Service

I believe it's safe to say they didn't invent layoffs.

Another headline announces "Security Council Holds First-Ever Debate
on Impact of Climate Change"--presumably other groups have had such

And the Daily Telegraph chimes in:
Bangladesh beat West Indies to win first ever away Test

It's true that the strong majority of "first ever" cites really do
involve absolute first evers.  But the Canadian headline is hardly
one of a kind.


>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).
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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