Updated 12/16: Added the “Pony Korea is Best Korea” meme and subreddits like /r/MyLittlePyongyang.
[x] Is Best Pony: Not About Grammar
I code-switch in and out of a lot of Englishes. Growing up in a Vietnamese American household, there was my dad’s wholly functional but somewhat stilted English versus my mom’s uber-precise “standard” English. In school, I was a a favorite of English teachers because I had an easy knack for “proper” grammar. But I grew up in North Carolina, where aint’s and y’alls were crucial. And by the time I was in high school and immersing myself in underground hip-hop culture, African American vernacular was the coin of the realm.
That’s all just to say that I’m not here to tell anybody that they’re speaking English wrong(ly!). Different contexts call for different rules of grammar, indicating different social groups and alliances1, and the grammar of “proper” English is only correct because it’s the English of people who hold sway over public opinion. So when we hear a phrase like “[x character] is best pony,” with the grammatical article “the” removed (as in “[x] is THE best pony), we can understand it as a demarcation of an identity through the playful use of grammar, though it comes at the risk of others painting it as signaling stupidity or something like that. As Tia Baheri notes at The Toast, “Conventional wisdom portrays this form of linguistic flexibility and playfulness as the end of intelligent human life”2.
So, today’s topic: where did the phrase “[x] is best pony” come from?
FiM Fandom Uptake
These days, you can’t look at a brony site or twitter feed without tripping over the phrase “[x] is best pony,” but it didn’t really gain traction in the fandom until 2012. I dug through the archives of Equestria Daily and found only sporadic references throughout 2011 (“Rarity is best pony” in June, “Pinkie Pie is best pony” in July, “Derpy is best pony” in September, etc.)—things didn’t really pick up until Equestria Daily posted its “[X] is Best Pony Graph” in November 2011. By January 2012, the comments section was starting to get littered with the formula.
Still, that doesn’t explain where it came from. That requires turning to the deepest recesses of the Internet.
Best Pony: Origins
When I asked about the “[x] is best pony” formula on Twitter, a few people told me that it was probably 4chan. Considering the storied history of /mlp/ on 4chan, they were almost certainly right, but that wasn’t enough for me. Surely, the transformation wasn’t simply:
"[x] is the best pony" >>> "[x] is best pony"
I guessed that it was probably something more like:
"[x] is best [y]" >>> "[x] is best pony"
Still, was there an original [x] and [y]? Were 4chan’s denizens really that invested in calling things “the best” of whatever category? 4chan loves its superlatives, but that seemed like a really stupid thing to be invested in. There’s always a logic to 4chan mayhem, tied to absurd humor. Whatever the original [x] and [y] were, they weren’t just random things that people earnestly thought were the greatest things ever. Then I thought about the premiere of Friendship is Magic: October 10, 2010. What 4chan antics were in the zeitgeist right before that—say, in the summer of 2010?
Bieber x North Korea: A Love Story
As chronicled pretty well by KnowYourMeme, 4chan began its Project North Korea is Best Korea to send Justin Bieber to North Korea to perform after his promoters made a webpage where fans could vote for a country he would perform in—with no restrictions on the countries. 4chan being 4chan, they quickly decided that they’d spam the vote and send Bieber to North Korea.
That was the missing link! The campaign got coverage on a number of big news websites, and therefore the general tech/nerd crowd outside of 4chan would have been privy to the humorous idea of “North Korea is Best Korea” and excellent images like this one:
In fact, that image dates back to at least May 26, 2009 when it was posted to Flickr, so the phrase “North Korea is Best Korea” probably has an even older pedigree on 4chan. The oldest reference I’ve found is a North Korean propaganda video uploaded to YouTube on June 29, 2008:
So, the meme “North Korea is best Korea” was already circulating, and remixing it n various ways was already a familiar source for humor in online circles. Thus, soon after Friendship is Magic became a phenomenon, the following meme people called “Pony Korea is Best Korea” hit the Internet, as early as February 20113 :
More recently, I discovered a number of subreddits, with sporadic activity, that continue the link between “Best Korea” and My Little Pony:
- Nov 10, 2012 – /r/Ponygyang established
- December 2, 2012 – /r/Stalliongrad established
- March 12, 2013 – /r/mylittlepyongyang established
That’s where my story ends, though the social life of the phrase itself will continue to evolve and adapt to circumstances. Recently, I’ve witnessed a few times when somebody in a non-brony context will say “[x] is best [y],” and a brony will chime in to say that the phrase originated from his/her fandom. In some cases, somebody will tell the brony that he/she is wrong and that the phrase originated from 4chan, though I have yet to see a clearer attribution than that.
So, is my etymology correct? Did I miss anything? Are there other terms of brony-speak with ambiguous etymologies? Why do you think bronies even have these terms specific to their fandoms? What does it mean that many of the terms originate from other geek subcultures? Comments please!
linguists call such groupings based on linguistic features “speech communities” ↩
Shout-out to Andrew Crome on Twitter for the link: https://twitter.com/Andrew_Crome/status/410042731025530880 ↩
Big thanks to “penguinland” on Reddit who found this image. The link was to the Something Awful forums, but that does suggest the same circles of people as 4chan. ↩