19 Responses to OT: If worse comes to worst
Over my (relatively mild) objection, the copyeditor of the Salon piece on renaming Earth Day (here) changed one letter in the final paragraph:
We have fiddled like Nero for far too long to save the whole earth or all of its species. Now we need a World War II scale effort just to cut our losses and save what matters most. So let’s call it Triage Day. And if worst comes to worst, at least future generations won’t have to change the name again.
I had sent in “if worse comes to worst.” Salon said they were following their style book. Fine. Can’t argue with that. But I had looked it up online at The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, which says (quite reasonably, I think):
if (when) worse (worst) come(s) to worst
These clich©s are variations of the same locution (sometimes the article the is added before one or both of the worse/worsts), each meaning essentially “If the worst that can happen actually does happen” or “If this already bad situation gets as bad as can be.” All these variations are idiomatic (even though if worst comes to worst is probably a distortion of if worse comes to worst), and all are Standard, whether the verb is indicative or subjunctive, as in If worse come[s] to worst.
So Salon isn’t wrong, but I prefer what I had because it more clearly means, “If this already bad situation gets as bad as can be,” which is what I meant.
I know that was bugging all of you as much as it was bugging me.