Let's Speak English
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wear their worst clothes. You can always tell if an Englishman's happy by his clothes - the shabbier the happier. When you go to get married you wear, not your GOODEST, but your BEST clothes; and how uncomfortable you feel, too! In England at weddings, there's always a BEST man. He hands the ring to the bridegroom during the ceremony and gets him a strong brandy and soda beforehand.
Occasionally you hear someone say "I like them both but I like him BEST.'' That's wrong. If you have a choice between only two things, you must say the BETTER and not the BEST. "I like them both but I like him BETTER."
In the same way, if you have two sisters you must talk of the ELDER, not the ELDEST. When l was a boy, my sisters were all older than I was. But as time went by they missed out a few years when no-one was looking. So now I m older than they are. Isn't it curious that, when sisters get to be twenty-nine years old, they stay twenty-nine for a very long time? The best ten years of a woman's life are between between twenty-nine and thirty.
Another mistake people sometimes make is to talk about the MOST EXCELLENT or the MOST UNIQUE. If a thing's EXCELLENT , it excels above all others. It's already the best. You can't say the MOST BEST, so why say the MOST EXCELLENT?
The same applies to UNIQUE. If a thing's UNIQUE, there's only one and no other. My face is UNIQUE. It's quite different from anyone else's face. I wish it weren't. I should really like to have the face of Marlene Dietrich. But I haven't: my face is unfortunately UNIQUE. It isn't MORE UNIQUE or even the MOST UNIQUE: it's just UNIQUE. That's quite bad enough as it is.
Now there are some adjectives that have two sets of comparative forms. Let's take the word LATE. You have LATER or LATTER; LATEST or LAST. Now LATER means after a longer lapse of time. I'm sometimes LATE at the office and, if I've been out to a party the night before, I'm sometimes LATER than usual, Of course, that's all right for me: hut Heaven help you if you're LATE at the office.
But LATTER means the second of two and is usually contrasted with the word FORMER. Now I have clothes for both winter and summer - a thick overcoat and a bathing suit. In the winter I wear the FORMER and in summer the LATTER. Between ourselves I also wear a thick overcoat in the summer, too. In the winter I have to wear a heavy carpet. But that's another matter.
Now the LAST means the final one; while the LATEST means the last one up till now. The 'Tempest' was Shakespeare's LAST play, but Bernard Shaw published his LATEST play in 1937. My LAST chance is my final chance. But my LATEST chance implies that I keep on getting chances. I'm lucky, that's all.
Some people confuse the two adjectives SORRY and ANGRY. ANGRY expresses rage; you can talk of an ANGRY lion, but hardly of a SORRY lion; unless, of course, he's eaten someone who was tough and indigestible. A man's ANGRY when he's annoyed; afterwards, if he regrets his anger, he says he's SORRY.
SORRY's a useful word in English. If you tread on someone's foot, yon apologize by saying "I'm SORRY"; and no more is said. If you turn a corner and bump into someone and knock him down, "I'm SORRY" is all vou need.