Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


January 15, 2012

Better than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives by Arthur Plotnik

Oh, that word amazing—enforced by dropping one’s mandible on the second syllable and stretching out the MAYYY sound until a listener seems convinced. “I just ate the most aMAYYYzing cupcake.”

Better than Great Arthur PlotnikThe purpose of this book is to help people praise things more effectively, so it seems ironic that when I try to describe it, I’m struck with acute performance anxiety. It’s like being faced with the final exam, right now.

In Better than Great, the always-entertaining Arthur Plotnik (see also Spunk & Bite and The Elements of Editing) turns his attention to the problem of what to say when you’ve said “great”—or “perfect,” or “amazing”—too many times already. Faced with the challenge, I tend to wimp out, myself—to go the understatement route. “It was pretty good,” I mutter. What a missed opportunity!

Plotnik lays out the main categories of superlatives, separating the great from the sublime, the large from the intense, exploring the contradictions of baditude, and offers the reader a list of words to try out for each. Thus we have tyrannosaurian cockroaches and Niagaras of tears, and people who are so stellar they could carry water in a sieve. Your signature dish is pie-hole heaven, it’s so scarfable. That woman? A stoater; I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up gorgeous. And who wouldn’t want to try a racy but quaffable red?

The appendices offer a few bonuses: a handy list for eponymous acclaim from Austenian to Zorroesque, with instructions for forming your own (is it Plotnikian or Plotnikesque?) and finally, to get you going, there’s the starter set of habit-breakers. It’s grea— wait, raveworthy!

So read this book and learn to blow the un-ignorable vuvuzela of praise.

Reviewed from an advance reading copy kindly sent to me by Viva Editions.

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