by Mia McKenzie
Last night on Twitter, I saw a brief exchange about Beyoncé’s use of “worst” in the following lyric in the song “Hold Up”: “What’s worst, looking jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy?”
And I was like, YAY LET’S TALK ABOUT GRAMMAR!!!
From their tweets, the folks who were engaging about it seemed to be suggesting that “worst” is improper grammar and, thus, caused them pause when listening to the song. I then saw quite a few people, all of them fans of Beyoncé and none of them haters, saying that they were also a little irked by “worst”.
I, too, had paused, and maybe even cringed a tiny bit when I heard the lyric. I was like: “Guuuuurl, it’s ‘worse’ not ‘worst’!”
I like the song “Hold Up” and I love Lemonade as a whole. I’m a very new fan of Beyoncé. My reaction to the use of “worst” instead of “worse” was less me looking for something not to like and more me being an English-language nerd who feels all types of ways about grammar. I’m the person who really wants you to know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. I’m the girl who dies a little inside when any one of there, their or there are used in place of each other. WORDS MEAN THINGS, MY DUDES.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that correct grammar is necessary in pop songs. Art can break all the rules and, as a homie pointed out, Beyoncé made “bootylicious” a legitimate word. I applaud her for it. Words are fun. English is fun. I break grammar rules on purpose all the time, like in this very piece (that should be ‘as in’ not ‘like in’, for example, but I like it better that way). So don’t @ me.
Still, some incorrect usages of grammar do get under my nerdy skin. Worse/worst is one of them. So, yes, I cringed at “What’s worst, looking jealous or crazy?” A fair few times.
But then I thought about it harder and I realized it’s not actually wrong.
Bring Mia McKenzie to your college or community event!
Come along with me on a brief grammar journey, will you? It’ll be fun and mad nerdy and there will be cupcakes.
So, first, briefly, for folks who are like “what is the difference between worse and worst?”
Simply put, ‘worse’ is used when comparing two things; ‘worst’ is used when comparing three or more things. ‘Worse’ is a comparative. ‘Worst’ is a superlative—it expresses the lowest quality or standard. You can totally look it up if you want more. But, for our purposes, that simple definition will do.
Of trash fires and white people, what’s worse?
Of snakes, trash fires and white people, what’s the worst?
(What, those are just easy examples, what????)
So, ‘worst’ is the least desirable of all the possible things.
When Beyoncé sings, “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy,” my first reaction was, “she’s comparing jealous and crazy. It should be ‘worse’ not ‘worst’.”
An argument can be made (and I made it last night on Twitter) that Beyoncé is, in fact, comparing three things.
Jealous, crazy and, like, being walked all over lately.
In which case, my nerds, ‘worst’ is correct.
Mkay, so I know what some of y’all are thinking right now: you reaching. To that I say, “worst is correct when comparing three or more things” isn’t really “reaching”. It’s pretty basic grammar. But also, if you don’t care to dissect this, why are you reading this piece? Just go do something else.
I do care. Because, again, I really like to think about words and how we use them.
There’s also another reason I care. Because people make fun of Beyoncé’s lack of formal education and of the way she speaks. As grammar-nerdy as I am, I don’t like seeing really badass, powerful, talented Black women shamed for grammar and how they pronounce words. (Not everyone I saw talking about it last night was shaming her, but some were and others have.)
I’m not gonna lie. I make fun of bad grammar and spelling a lot in response to online trolls who never seem to be able to spell and who wouldn’t know the difference between there, their and they’re if it lay next to them on their pallet in their grandma’s basement.
But when it comes to badass Black women, or really anybody other than trolls and other assholes, I think folks—especially folks with a lot of formal education—can just let other folks talk how they talk and it’ll be fine.
Again, if you think it’s “not that deep” why are you even still here, tho?
For those of us who are interested in the English language and how we use words and also are really into dissecting this lyric: thanks for joining me on this grammar adventure. Yes, I lied about the cupcakes. But it was mad nerdy, wasn’t it?
Mia McKenzie is an award-winning writer, a speaker, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous. Bring her to your college or community event.
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