Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Nuts and Bolts: best and worst.
Best and worst are ancient words which don't seem ever to have had anything to do with the words good and bad, even though of course best means goodest and worst means baddest.
Baddest was in fact used quite commonly in English into the 1700s, by Daniel Defoe amongst others, but it lost out to worst in the end.
Goodest was used into the 1600s. John Dryden used it, so it must have been quite respectable at the time.
Nowadays goodest and baddest are almost extinct. Bestest is occasionally heard, but anyone over the age of three really should know better.
Word To Use Today: best. Or worst. Best comes from the Old English betst, but is less likely to spray spit everywhere. It's probably got something to do with the Old English word bōt, which means remedy. There's a Sanskrit word bhadra, which means fortunate, which may have something to do with it, too.
Worst comes the Old English wiersa and is realted to the Gothic wairiza.
Goodest can still come in useful from time to time: the goodest man will be morally blameless, but the best man will be hugely admirable.
The best man is not to be confused with the Best Man, whose duty is firstly to make sure the bridegroom is sober enough to get to the wedding, secondly not to lose the ring, and then thirdly to embarrass everyone by making a speech telling everyone the groom's darkest secrets.