Part of a series on How the English are Ruining Our Language
Supermassive black hole seen eating star for the first ever time
So reads a headline in yesterday’s Independent. What purpose does ever serve in that headline? I submit, none at all. Yet “first ever” has become a fixed expression, thanks to the paid praters.
Once upon a time, we sometimes said that a thing or event was the first of its kind ever, I think as a way of emphasizing that it wasn’t just the first in a long time—that nothing like it had ever existed or happened before. Then the paid praters, especially in England, started using “first-ever” as an adjectival unit, rather than an adjective and an adverb, and we got things like,
A small number of professors from Oxford are looking to establish the first-ever blockchain university, according to a report by CoinTelegraph on June 14.
Sentence grabbed at random from the web, www.financemagnates.com.
Now it simply means first:
It reminded her of the time eighteen months or so before, when she’d been waiting for her first ever period.
Cassidy, Anne IN REAL LIFE (2002)
Quoted, rather embarrassingly, as an example on the Collins Dictionary web site
A Google search for first-ever turns up a bunch of dictionary sites, mostly British, not surprisingly (Collins, Oxford, MacMillan’s, Longman’s), among the first several hits. They all seem to agree that “first-ever” (with or without hyphen) is a legitimate adjective.
Where this leaves concepts like “biggest ever” and “best ever” I’m not sure. One could once talk about “the tallest building ever built”. Now, I suppose, the English (and American journalists, who always ape the English) must talk about “the tallest-ever building”, and it won’t surprise me if we soon see “the tallest-ever building ever built”. It’s probably already out there, but I don’t have the heart to look for it.