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The following was a comment of mine on an answer on Stack Overflow:

This answer is misleading and incomplete at best. Plain wrong at worst.

My intent was to express that an indulgent interpretation will render it misleading and incomplete. A less forgiving one can go as far as saying it is just wrong.

I don't feel good about at worst. Is it a correct way to express this? I suspect it is, but even if it is I have the feeling it doesn't sound natural to an English speaking native.

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    Sounds perfectly natural to me, native AmE. – Paul Senzee Jan 27 '15 at 17:24
  • This sentence is misleading, and incomplete at best. As opposed to this sentence, which is misleading if not plain wrong. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '15 at 17:27
  • I think the spectrum isn't too big here. "At least it's not going to be destructive if believed", is what I was going to say, but you already included misleading in a best case scenario, so simply being wrong isn't that horrible. (Hint: if the at worst scenario isn't that bad, using at worst isn't the ... um... worst thing you can say.) – SrJoven Jan 27 '15 at 17:30
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Perfectly comprehensible but seems rather brusque to me (BrEng).

"case a at best, case b at worst" is normal usage. Where case a is bad and case b is even worse, it's a pretty dismissive thing to say.

It gives you you opportunity to criticise and then double-up on that criticism. Since your case a consists of two things ('incomplete' as well as 'misleading'), you've been able to go for triple-criticism. Harsh.

Odo regarded Cisco as, as best, a necessary evil. At worst, a nuisance.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Siege, Peter David

  • It is a perfectly well known idiomatic formulation. Whether it is 'brusque' or not, seems to me to depend on the context in which it is used. – WS2 Jan 27 '15 at 17:16
  • @WS2, I agree, it's well-known ('normal usage' as I said). It's not necessarily brusque but in the context of the OP's remark it sounds a lot like "shut up, stupid idiot" to me (BrEng). Clearly that's a matter of opinion though. – A E Jan 27 '15 at 17:28
  • I wasn't trying to be harsh. I was just trying to point that the answer can be considered wrong. – bolov Jan 27 '15 at 18:27
  • +1 A E, @bolov - forgive the analogy, but it's like a 'double-jump & king-me' move in checkers, hard to resist but not wrong. Perhaps what troubles you is that your actual intent was to edify rather than to criticize. – user98990 Jan 27 '15 at 18:40
  • Hi @bolov - yes, I thought that you probably weren't meaning to be harsh, that's actually why I mentioned the issue of tone - no-one wants to be accidentally harsh! ;) – A E Jan 28 '15 at 9:59
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An alternative would be

This answer is misleading and incomplete at best. It may even be plain wrong.

The subjunctive softens it.

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    Great suggestion. I removed my comment and replaced it with this. – bolov Jan 27 '15 at 18:28

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