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Re: Better/worse

Posted by TheFallen on March 29, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Help me! posted by James Briggs on March 29, 2003

: : Consequently, I have been on a diet for the better---or worse----part of my life.

: : What does 'worse' here mean?

: This is a play on words (and it should be 'worst' not 'worse'). It is based on the fact that, although there are advantages to being on a diet, such as losing weight, there are also disadvantages, such as hunger!
: A balance has to be made between the 'better' aspects and the 'worst' ones when you chose to go on a diet - or any other course of action for that matter. Thus, if you've been on a diet there is a downside producing the 'worst part of my life'.
: Others may be able to put this more eloquently.

As James states, it is a play on words. However, I am clearly in a disagreeable frame of mind this lunchtime, since if the author's going to use the comparative "better", then clearly the counter to that must be "worse" - so if he/she hasn't used "best" then I don't see any need to use "worst" instead. A stickler for grammar might argue that it's wrong to use comparatives when one's describing a series of two, and that only superlatives (best/worst) are strictly correct, but that's being very strait-laced if you ask me. However, the sentence would read just as well if it stated "Consequently, I have been on a diet for the best - or worst - part of my life."

There are two standard English phrases, "the better part of" and "the best part of", both of which simply mean the larger part of, as in:

"He was ill for the better part of ten months."

In the above, there's obviously no connotation of his illness being in any way good or desirable, just that it lasted for the majority of those ten months.

However, the author, by adding in "or worse" is deliberately leveraging the other meaning of "better" (more desirable), allowing him/her to point out humorously that his/her prolonged diet has been absolutely no fun, for all the good that it may be doing him/her.

"For better or worse" is also a recognised English phrase, being part of the traditional marriage ceremony, and which of course is dutifully ignored by so many post-event.