worse comes to worst; worst comes to worst.
The traditional idiom, evidenced in the Oxford English Dictionary consistently from the 16th century, is “worst comes to (the) worst” (= [if] things turn out as badly as possible). But the more modern and more logical idiom, “worse comes to worst” — with its progression from comparative to superlative — now outnumbers the traditional phrase by a 3-to-2 ratio in print and is the better choice. E.g.:
o “Why not just move . . . all the way? Another place where, if worse comes to worst, you can just blow up the bridge.” Howie Carr, “Gang of Pirates Tries to Hack Through Cape,” Boston Herald, 12 Aug. 1994, at 4.
o “Her skills often rely on a quick wit and, when worse comes to worst, a willingness to lie.” J.C. Martin, “Bookcasings,” Ariz. Daily Star, 28 July 1996, at I7.
o “But if worse comes to worst, there’s nothing wrong with a little goof here or there in school pictures.” “Planning Can Make School Photographs Just Picture-Perfect,” San Antonio Express-News, 22 Sept. 1997, at D2.
For information about the Language-Change Index click here.
Quotation of the Day: “Good critical writing is measured by the perception and evaluation of the subject; bad critical writing by the necessity of maintaining the professional standing of the critic.” Raymond Chandler, Letter to Frederick Lewis Allen (7 May 1948), in Raymond Chandler Speaking 77, 78 (Dorothy Gardiner & Katherine Sorley Walker eds., 1962).