In speech when making comparisons we can say:
- It is far better than
- It's way better than
- It's miles better than
- It's worlds better than
British restaurant food is far/way/miles/worlds better than it used to be 20 years ago.
In the case of miles and far we can invert the order and say
It is better by far
It is better by miles
But the phrase: "It is better by way/worlds" sounds off key.
British restaurant food is better by far/miles than it used to be 20 years ago. YES
British restaurant food is better by way/worlds than it used to be 20 years ago. NO
In the superlative form, the dissonance no longer occurs with way.
Of all the ice-creams we've tasted, Italian is by far the best
Of all the ice-creams we've tasted, Italian is the best by far
Of all the ice-creams we've tasted, Italian is the best by miles tfd
?Of all the ice-creams we've tasted, Italian is by way the best (dubious)
But the dissonance continues with "worlds"
Of all the ice-creams we've tasted, Italian is by worlds the best NO
The expression "by far/miles/the best" is idiomatic, but the phrase by worlds the best sounds off, and Google agrees, displaying only seven results.
Is it ungrammatical? Is it nonsensical? Can you not measure something in worlds? Well... yes you can, because a person can do something worlds better than another person. How many worlds? Two, three, an infinite number? It doesn't matter, the term worlds is used as a form of measurement as proven when it is used in the comparative sense.
If neither "by way better" nor "by worlds better" is idiomatic, what happens with way when we use the superlative form in "by way the best"?
I did a little Google research and came up with these figures:
- by far the best
- the best by far
- by way the best
- by miles the best
- the best by miles
- the best by worlds (?)
- by worlds the best (?)
1) Does this type of construction and/or flexibility have a name in linguistics? I.e., It is miles better / it is better by miles
2) Why is "it is better by way/worlds" incorrect but not "it is better by far/miles"?
Many thanks to @Mitch who pointed out that Google's declared results and the actual instances for "by way the best" were way off by miles—groan.
Consequently, I've clicked on the last page for each search and noted down the results. You'll see that on every last page Google kindly reminds its users: In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the XXX already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.
(I don't think I'll ever understand how Google calculates its results...)