Correcting Grammar is the Funnest Job

by Robert Pondiscio
April 28th, 2009

Do my ears deceive me?  Did Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs actually say on national television – on Meet the Press, no less – “this is the funnest, most rewarding job that I’ve ever had and it may well be the funnest and most rewarding job that I ever have.”

Funnest?  The man who speaks for the President, who speaks for the United States of America, said “funnest?”  Twice??

If Mr. Gibbs and I go out to breakfast, we might have fun.  We also might have pancakes.  Fun and pancakes are both nouns.  If our breakfast cannot be the pancakiest meal we ever had, then how could it be the funnest?

Some will argue that “fun” has gained traction as an adjective, as in “That was a fun breakfast.”  But if you want to be a stickler about it (and having gone this far down the path, why not go the rest of the way?), “fun” used to describe the breakfast is not an adjective, but an attributive noun.  Here’s a great explanation from the blog Grammar Girl:

In the phrase “sugar cookie,” “sugar” is a noun, but it’s being used in an attributive way to describe the cookie. Attributive nouns do exactly the same thing as adjectives. You could say, “I ate a sugar cookie” or “I ate a yummy cookie.” The sentences are constructed the same way, but “sugar” is an attributive noun and “yummy” is an adjective.

No adjective?  Then no comparative (funner) and no superlative (funnest).

Your job may be the most fun you’ve ever had, Mr. Gibbs, but it’s not the funnest.

6 Comments »

  1. In the immortal words of Ralph Wiggum:

    “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

    Comment by Obi-Wandreas — April 28, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  2. Well, I’ll be darnder than anyone else here! I thought “fun” was an interjection.

    “As the weather gets warmer, people spend more time in the parks–fun!–and come to appreciate the varieties of birds.”

    Or maybe a verb:

    “Let’s fun it up, kids!”

    Or maybe a preposition:

    “From the top of the spiral stairs, fun the banisters, all the way to the bottom we slid.”

    But not a noun. That gives be befuddles.

    Comment by Diana Senechal — April 29, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

  3. Are you really complaining about fun as an adjective? Or about “funnest” as oppose to “most fun” as the superlative. Would it be a problem if Gibbs had said “This is a really fun job!” Or even “This is probably the most fun job I’ll ever have?”

    But it seems to me that by using “Funnest” he was making clear that he was being funny.

    And, at the risk of being pedantic, this is the “Usage Note” from the Answers.com online dictionary on “fun” as an adjective:

    USAGE NOTE The use of fun as an attributive adjective, as in a fun time, a fun place, probably originated in a playful reanalysis of the use of the word in sentences such as It is fun to ski, where fun has the syntactic function of adjectives such as amusing or enjoyable. The usage became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, though there is some evidence to suggest that it has 19th-century antecedents, but it can still raise eyebrows among traditionalists. The day may come when this usage is entirely unremarkable, but writers may want to avoid it in more formal contexts.

    Comment by Rachel — April 30, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  4. The day may indeed come when it’s unremarkable. But that day is not today. And contexts are seldom more formal than serving as the President’s spokesman on national television. Even in our age of informality.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — April 30, 2009 @ 9:40 pm

  5. You didn’t answer Rachel’s question, which makes me wonder whether you understood it and whether you know what you’re talking about.

    If Gibbs had said “this is the most fun, most rewarding job that I’ve ever had” would you have written this same criticism? If not, then your complaint has nothing to do with using fun as an adjective. Any time you say “most fun” or “more fun” you’re using “fun” as an adjective.

    You cite a Grammar Girl post in support of the claim that in the phrase “that was a fun breakfast” the word “fun” is an attributive noun. But the very post that you link to makes clear that fun is serving as an adjective in that context, which is specifically contrasted with phrases like “fun fair” and “fun-fest” in which it is an attributive noun.

    Your real complaint seems to be simply that “funnest” is a nonstandard superlative, but you muddle this up with an argument over whether fun is properly an adjective. If someone were to say, “that was the interestingest thing I’ve heard all day,” this would be an incredibly nonstandard usage, but it wouldn’t change the fact that “interesting” is a perfectly good adjective.

    “The day may indeed come when it’s unremarkable. But that day is not today.”

    That’s a true statement as to the word “funnest”, but it’s extremely dubious as to “fun” as an adjective. I seriously doubt than even the stodgiest of traditionalists would bat an eye at phrases like “most fun” in which “fun” is clearly an adjective.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 6, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  6. I’m fine with being wrong in public. I don’t embarrass easily (plus, I’m no William Safire). I will certainly accept “nonstandard superlative.” I also accept that dictionaries are history books, not rule books; they describe how the language is used, now how it must be used. So if people want to use fun as an adjective that is their perfect right. It’s my perfect right to expect the President’s spokesman not to indulge in nonstandard usage. Other people can, but they ain’t he.

    So would I have objected to Gibbs’ saying “most fun job”? Probably not, but merely because it’s less of an assault on the ear, and thus wouldn’t have jumped out. Spoken English is clearly less formal than written English and the bar for correctness is arguably a half notch lower. That said, it still wouldn’t have been correct, methinks. Why not say, “I’m enjoying this job more than any job I’ve ever had.”

    Too stuffy? Maybe, but again, he’s the Presidential press secretary. We don’t pay him to enjoy himself. Hey, that’s it! I don’t object to Mr. Gibbs’ language. I object to him having fun.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — May 6, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

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