Worse? Worst?

Does worse come to worst?

Or does worst come to worse?

Or does worse come to worse?

Or does worst come to worst?

Which one of these phrases is objectively correct, and which three are morally reprehensible bastardizations?

If (the) worst comes to (the) worst appears to be the older form, but if (the) worse comes to (the) worst seems to have logic on its side. See the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, page 965. I hope that link works; I haven’t had good luck linking to Google Books results.

“If worst comes to worst” was all I ever saw or heard until the advent of the Internet allowed people to get published without editorial review.

Worst is the superlative degree. It can’t get worse.

Worse can get worse without reaching worst.

Blame Thomas Middleton.

I have always thought it was, “if worst come to worst.”

I don’t think it necessarily refers to a bad or worse situation turning into the worst possible one, however (in which case “worse comes to worst” might make more sense). As I understand it, it is just an idiomatic way of saying “if the worst outcome [or just a bad one, it does not actually have to be the worst imaginable] should actually arise.” It could be said about a good or neutral situation turning bad; it does not have to mean a bad situation getting as bad as possible.

I’ve always used worse to worst because it’s logical.

Worst can never come to worse because there can be nothing worse than worst. Worst can’t come to worst because worst has already been achieved. Worse can, I suppose, come to even worse, however, since the phrase usually expresses being forced to an ultimatum or reaching a nadir, this usage doesn’t make much sense.

Language, and especially idiomatic language, is not beholden to logic.

No, but that doesn’t mean the logical expression shouldn’t be encouraged. I hear an increasing number of people say the phrase “for all intensive purposes.” It’s wrong, illogical, and makes no sense, and although your response can be just as easily applied here, its use is still wrong.

There are alot of those. They piss me off, too.

But in this case the “logical” version, “worse comes to worst,” not only is not the correct form of the idiom, but it also means something different. The original form, “worst comes to the worst,” basically means “if the worst case indeed occurs;” your “logical” substitution means “if something already bad becomes the very worst,” which is a different meaning.

This is true, but I don’t know that we’re dealing with an idiom here. It is a common phrase, but so is “Good morning.” It seems to me that “if worse comes to worst” is short for “if the current situation gets worse, and becomes the worst possible.”

The language authorities that I checked did indeed call it an idiom.

Anyone who thinks that idioms never transform into a more logical configuration has another thing coming.

If worst comes to worst, my peoples come first. ~ Dilated Peoples, real hip hop.

If wurst comes to Worse, then Herr Worse will have sausage to eat with his saurkraut.

Thinking about this some more and in light of some of the other posts. I think ‘‘worst comes to worst’’ is what I have always heard, logical or not.

An example: How many of you thing the mess in the Middle East is the worst it has ever been? You could argue the Ottoman Turks, the Byzantian Empire, or the Crusades were even worse.

How many of you think the current mess, worst in history or not, can get worse?