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By J Square Humboldt

The best way to cheapen anything is to overuse it...

I recall a sports clip from many years ago, where a veteran basketball player near the end of his career was reminiscing about his prime and comparing it to the supporting-cast status he was about to assume with his latest team. He made a comment along the lines of "I've been a superstar; it's fine with me if I don't have that role anymore."

Perhaps he thought he was being humble. For my part, I thought that if I didn't remember him from a fairly illustrious college career, I wouldn't have picked him out of a lineup of one.


This word took flight in the 1970s, as far as I can tell. It was originally intended to draw a distinction between well-known people and really well-known people, usually from the sports or entertainment industries. However, I think most would agree that the term reached its zenith when Andrew Lloyd-Weber and Tim Rice affixed it to the title of their most famous rock opera, 'Jesus Christ Superstar.'

Admittedly, a reference like that set the bar quite high for anyone else who might want to be affiliated with the designation. But to me, this is the way it should be.

For the past decade or so, especially in the USA, 'superstar' has been so watered down that even pop dictionaries have begun to pull back on its significance. Any notable of the moment seems to qualify. However, for the most part, unless they're like the basketball player mentioned above and actually believe the hype, they're not the root of the diluted definition.

That distinction is reserved for our contemporary wordsmiths, the writers and broadcasters of our time.

There's a reason such a seemingly innocuous bit of pedantry merits notice. The Longer Life site promotes factors which can improve your quality of living. To me, that implies that certain standards of competence must be maintained. In the bell curve of daily existence, there must be sentinels whose very actions exemplify and maintain quality in their area of expertise. This is how a culture advances.

The impact of wordsmiths in any culture is enormous. Not only do they chronicle every aspect of it, they influence its nature and perceptions. The prominence of their vocations ensures they are very aware of these realities.

Thus, there should be little or no tolerance for rendering the tools of their trade --- words and grammar --- in diminishing contexts.

Thus, in this instance, a 'star' is recognized by anyone who follows his profession. A 'superstar' is recognized by anyone. David Beckham is a superstar. So is Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Maria Callas.

So is Ernest Hemingway.

His work is proof that it's not the tools you use, but how you use them. He's what Hunter S Thompson and Richard Farina almost were. More importantly, he did his part to keep the bar raised high.

That Hemingway immersed himself into every aspect of that word is a backhanded tribute to his zeal for both his times and his craft.

It's what we should expect from a superstar.

About The Author
J Square Humboldt is the featured columnist at the Longer Life website, which is dedicated to providing information, strategies, analysis and commentary designed to improve the quality of living. His page can be found at and his observations are published three times per week.

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