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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Back of Beyond

I don't know if you've noticed, but the word "beyond" has acquired a new function recently. It has always been an adverb, meaning "farther away, on the other side", and is related to the now mostly defunct word "yon". 


But in the last few years it has taken on a different adverbial function: modifying and intensifying adjectives, especially positive ones like "happy", "excited", "beautiful", and "thrilled", although I have recently seen "beyond insane" and "beyond jealous", but the winner seems to be "beyond angry", as in the following (keep scrolling down after the chart, as there's a bit of a gap before the post continues): 

  Here is the earliest example I could find on Google Books, from 1976 (you can thank me later, Oxford English Dictionary).

The Man who Loved Beauty - Page 6

Leonard W. Robinson - 1976 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
I had turned, in a kind of slow dreamlike turn, and there was the goddess herself, Zeus's wife, standing beside me in the flesh. And she was beyond beautiful. She was Beauty itself.


from 1983 

Double Love - Page 11

Kate William, ‎Francine Pascal - 1983 -
"And now she was beyond happy that she'd made the decision to keep it to herself. Todd and Jessica. It makes perfect sense, Liz thought. The star of the football team would go for the the captain of the cheerleading squad.."

This is a work of teen fiction (I bet you would never have guessed), so rivetingly described that I know you will want to rush out and get a copy: "WELCOME TO SWEET Valley High—a world of good girls and bad girls, hot boys with fast cars, perfect tans and natural highlights . . . all under the Southern California sun."

If it weren't for the 1976 quotation above, I would therefore wonder whether this usage started in Valley Girl slang, if the authors were making a conscious effort to emulate the usage of their protagonists.


  I also found this early one for "beyond angry": 

Business as Usual - Page 179

Linda Wisdom - 1984 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
No, she was beyond angry. From the time Casey had walked out of the house until Kate's arrival, Drew had had plenty of hours to think over Casey's words. The tears had dried up, the trembling lower lip stiffened, the sniffing silenced and ... 

As far as I can tell, this is romantic fiction (never say I don't introduce you to great literature!).

You are no doubt beyond thrilled that I have brought this to your attention. Beyond ecstatic, even (goodness, we are excitable and hyperbolic these days). In fact, if I had entitled this post "Beyond takes on new adverbial function", it would probably have gone beyond viral.

What other adjectives have you noticed that are modified by “beyond”? Let me know in the comments.

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.