"I've been reading a book by Margaret Drabble," said Jack last week at the end of our usual repast.
I said "I'm glad you're not neglecting your English literature, my friend. But, personally, I'm not all that much of a fan of Mizz Drabble. I think at best she ..."
Jack interrupted my train of thought: "I wasn't consulting you about her literary merit. I just wanted to ask you a question."
I said "What was the question?"
"Well," said Jack "she uses the phrase -- and I quote 'when worst comes to worst' -- that doesn't seem right."
"That does look a little strange," I said. "I've come across 'when worse comes to worse', and 'when worst comes to worse', and when worse comes to worst', but not Mizz Drabble's version."
Jack said "I'm glad you've given me the alternatives, but I'm not sure I know what any one of them means."
I said "let me explain. Do you have a minute?"
"I'm retired," said Jack, "I've got all day. If you take long enough we can have supper here too!"
That prospect held no allure for me, so ...
I said "Jack, let's start with the simplest one 'when worse comes to worse'. I guess that means 'when things that are already bad, get even worse -- like things going from bad to worse. I don't like that one, it doesn't sound right, even if there is an explanation.
Now the next one: 'when worst comes to worse'. That simply means that things have gone from worse to the very worst.
And then there is number three: 'when worse comes to worst'. I think that is just saying that even the worst situation can get worse.
But now that I say it, I realize that much of the meaning of the phrase depends on the meaning of "comes to". Does it mean "becomes", or "is added to". That would switch the meanings around. But it still doesn't make sense of Mizz Drabble's way of putting it.
I guess I don't really know."
"Well, thank you," said Jack "for clarifying that for me. About your not really knowing, I mean."
As we were putting away our plates and paper cups, Jack said "I thought up an Obama joke."
I said "a real, genuine joke?"
"I think so," said Jack.
"OK," I said, "let me hear it."
Jack said "What was Obama's campaign slogan?"
I said "I think it was 'YES WE CAN!'"
Jack said "How do you call a president who says 'NO WE CAN'T?'"
I said "Jack, how DO you call a president who says 'NO WE CAN'T'"
Jack said "Obummer!"
Not a gut-buster or a knee-slapper, but worth a chuckle.
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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