Friday 15 February 2013

What is it about the phrase “this is the worst thing that could happen”? People very rarely use it appropriately. Same goes for variations such as “things couldn’t possibly get any worse for__________.” Admittedly I hear them a lot in the context of sports commentary – but it isn’t the only place, Talksport is not somewhere you hear something for the first – or only- time.

“Vale City manager Clem Datona must be thinking that things couldn’t get much worse than being two goals down in a must win game.” Three goals down; Four goals down; Five goals down; Two goals down and all the players are on fire; Two goals down and the plumbing in the changing rooms isn’t working. I could go on. Sure, you could say this is just me being overly pedantic. However, as with my counter argument to most accusation of pedantry, I would say that I am just saying that something is wrong and it might be more helpful if things just were not wrong in the first place.

In the situations where the phrase could actually be used without any sense of hyperbole it would be deemed inappropriate. We’re at a police press conference. Two exhausted looking adults are sat at a table with a prominent policeperson or two. It’s because their daughter has been missing for eight days. The father is not likely to say: “Well we were just relaxing and I went back in the house for two minutes to help my wife finish off lunch when we came out with the sandwiches our little girl was gone. She’s been gone long enough for us to have to accept that she’s been taken and murdered. I’ll be honest this is worst thing that could possible have happened to us.”

And he could, justifiably, use it. So, it’s either used incorrectly or not used when it could be. Conclusion: retire the phrase.

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