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What is for the better or worse? I remember hearing this a few times before but am not really 100% sure on the exact meaning of it.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Usually this is said, "for better or (for) worse" (without the). This phrase is used to indicate that a fact you are mentioning is not necessarily a good thing or bad thing. Often it is used if you say something, and you do not want to imply that you think it is a good thing.

Nowadays, anybody can easily publish articles on the Internet, for better or worse.

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The idiom is "for better or worse" - is it this you mean? If so, it just expresses this:

If a situation exists or happens for better or for worse, it exists or happens whether its results are good or bad.

See here.

This comes from an idiom "for the better/worse", which means "to produce improvement/decline".

If this is not what you are looking for, there is a phrase "for the better part", which means "for more than half but not all". This is used sometimes like: "for the better or worse part [of my life]", which would be "more than half my lifetime, but using better is somewhat misleading, as the time really was not good, but bad".

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The usual way it's heard is "for better or for worse." To break it down:

"for better" means that something happened and the result is good. "He quit using drugs, for better."

"for worse" means something happened and the outcome is bad. "We re-elected our president, for worse."

Putting them together, it means the result can go either way. "The new legislation has passed, for better or worse." Meaning, it was probably a controversial law, we don't know what the outcome will be, but it has happened.

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-1: "for better or for worse" is idiomatic; it's not useful to break it down. Nobody ever says "He <did something>, for better" or "We <did something>, for worse. Kosmonaut's and Ralph Rickenbach's earlier answers are much closer to the mark. –  gkrogers Nov 5 '10 at 23:58
    
@gkrogers: This headline is "Reprices for Worse Reported". This one is "Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks: anniversary, for worse." I'll agree for worse seems more common than for better, but it is used. –  Claudiu Nov 6 '10 at 2:07

None of these answers so far mention the obvious, that it's an archaic construction from the Book of Common Prayer Marriage vows which include the commitment "...for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,..." : all different ways of saying "come what may".

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It may be present in that book, but why is it "obvious" that the construction is from there? Do you have reason to believe that it did not exist before that book? –  ShreevatsaR Oct 28 '10 at 18:20
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I agree to ShreevatsaR. Also note that OED lists a quotation in 1390, which predates the Book of Common Prayer. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 28 '10 at 20:02
    
In the UK at least, the phrase has a very strong resonance with that source, in that most people hearing it will recognise it as coming from the standard marriage vows (even if they can't actually name the BCP as the source). –  psmears Jan 14 '11 at 22:45

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