Definitive

  1. most reliable or complete, as of a text, author, criticism, study, or the like
  2. having its fixed and final form

I’ve been noticing this word a lot lately, particularly on Pinterest and Buzzfeed.  It seems like nearly every post involves a “definitive” ranking or roll call of some pop culture reference.  But by definition, every list cannot be definitive.  There are too many other people waiting in the wings of the Internet to rank the Pretty Little Liars’ season 1-infinity outfits, or the best animated Disney films (ALL OF THEM) or the things all 90s kids remember.

Some of these lists I might be willing to believe, considering the source.  Oh My Disney, for instance, might have a reasonable claim on being the “most reliable” place to find a list of the Disney princes’ hairstyles.  But they fail the second definition in that these lists, however authoritative the source, will never be in their “fixed and final form.”  Just try Googling “definitive ranking of” and finish the phrase with your own favorite fandom/fruit/fish family.  See how many results turn up.

definitive

124,000 search results in 0.36 seconds.  Nice work, Google.  But do these really deserve the title “definitive?”  Most can probably be dismissed out of hand because of their purely opinionated basis, with little or no authority to back them up, and the rest – well, as long as someone else comes out with their own “Definitive Ranking” next week, none of these will ever be the “final and fixed form” of the list.

Which begs the question, why are we so fond of this word on the Internet?  If the fluidity of our medium means that in the next hour someone else with more authority can come along and write their own post about the subject, why do we grasp at the title of “definitive” for ourselves?  The very place we publish these things undermines our credibility.

I tried to think of places I use or hear this word in my everyday life.  I realized that I, too, want to create something “most reliable and complete,” hopefully in a “final and fixed form.”  For several years, I’ve told anyone who would listen that I want to write the definitive work on the Arabian Nights.  That obsession is worthy of its own post(s), but now that I think about it…can I really claim for myself that my eventual tome will be the definitive work?  Or is it something that others will have to decide about my work later?

How does one dare claim this word?  It’s just daunting.  And yet, I applaud those who put forth their opinions and personal research with this brave word attached – as repetitive as it is to see so many supposedly definitive lists on Pinterest.

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