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When we refer to the most negative dream, we say it as worst nightmare. Since that nightmare is negative, does that mean that the meaning of the worst nightmare is the least negative of all nightmares?

If so, does the phrase best nightmare mean the best negative dream or simply the worst nightmare?

Is it right to use a negative adjective (worst) in its superlative form to describe the level of the negative term? Is my reasoning right?

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Language is not logic. ‘Worst’ here does not mean ‘least efficient’ but ‘most horror-inducing’. In the right situation, you can force good and bad to refer to efficiency in this context, but it requires the right situation. Normally, a bad nightmare is characterised by being good at being a nightmare. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 12 at 2:10
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Enlarging upon Janus's answer: 'He's the worst thief we ever arrested' is ambiguous. Worst might have the 'most reprehensible / heinous' meaning, where the adjective really describes the character of the man; or it might have the 'least proficient' meaning, where the adjective truly modifies the noun. A 'beautiful dancer' would usually be read as 'someone who dances beautifully, not as 'a person who is beautiful and who dances'. If 'X is an A N' doesn't entail 'X is A' as well as 'X is an N', A is called a non-intersective adjective. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 12 at 5:23

3 Answers 3

Worst, in this case, means

most severe, serious, or dangerous

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Worst is colloquially used less as "least" and more as "most negative". So your "worst nightmare" would be your "most negative nightmare". You can also have a "worst problem", as "the most negative problem." "Between stubbing your toe, getting a cold, and having your eyes replaced with bees, the last is the worst problem to have." It would probably also be the worst nightmare.

Note you can flip this around and create some interesting phrases by contrasting negative things with positive modifiers, and vice versa. Like you could say "As far as things go, 'I have too much money' is one of the best problems to have."

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Language has logic

Nightmare = negative dream
Worst = most; thus best = least

Worst nightmare = most negative dream;
Thus
Best nightmare = least negative dream

The error was brought about by a change in grouping equivalences.

Least negative = worst
thus
Least negative negative dream

More obvious

Original:

Best nightmare = ((least) (negative dream))

Change:

Best nightmare = ((least negative) (nightmare)) = ((least negative) (negative dream))
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