Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: least worst.

least worst. This phrase, like its kissing cousin “least worse,” doesn’t make literal sense: it should be “least bad.” If you have several undesirable options with varying levels of undesirability, only one can be the worst. All the others are less bad, and the least undesirable is the least bad. With a superlative adverb such as “least,” it’s incorrect to use either a comparative or a superlative adjective: hence “bad” is correct. Most often it’s a spoken error, but sometimes (especially in British English sources, as the last two examples here show) it’s the writer’s fault: o “Lamar Alexander, trying to convince voters he was more than the ‘least worse‘ [read ‘least bad‘] choice, had to roll out a refreshened agenda.” Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy, “The Secret Test of New Hampshire,” Time, 26 Feb. 1996, at 20. o “‘There’s no good solution,’ agreed Jason Catlett, chief executive of Junkbusters Corp., an antispam concern based in Green Brook, N.J. ‘It’s a matter of which is the least worst [read ‘least bad‘].'” Jared Sandberg, “Recipe for Halting Spread of ‘Spam’ Is Proving Elusive,” Wall St. J., 13 June 1997, at B1. o “But now is probably the least worst [read ‘least bad‘] time that we are likely to get.” “The Time for Strong Nerves,” Guardian, 21 July 1997, at 14. o “It is difficult to say which is the least worst [read ‘least bad‘] pairing.” Benedict Nightingale, “Where All Is for the Worst,” Times (London), 20 Aug. 1997, at 31. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “In all men of real intelligence we find the tendency to express themselves briefly, to say speedily what is to be said.” Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), in The Lichtenberg Reader: Selected Writings of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 55 (trans. Franz H. Mautner & Henry Hatfield, 1959). ====================
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