Submitted by Dyske on November 29, 2002

“got the best of him”

I hear this expression every now and then, and I understand it as “screwed”, but it seems odd to say “the best”. Why not “all of him”? What does “the best” imply?

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To get "the best" of someone is, in some kind of contest, e.g. haggling for prices, playing poker, playing basketball, to match his abilities, competence, intelligence, etc., and then go even higher, so that you surpass him, and you have shown your superiority.
It is similar to the verb usage of "best." To "best" someone is to surpass, or outdo that person.
Perhaps it comes from the sense that you are better than his best, and he would have to acknowledge you as "the best."

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In Australia this phrase (or 'got the better of him') is often used to refer to a situation where someone (him) gave their best effort but was still unable to succeed. Say if your friend was sick and dying of cancer, but really put in a fight to live and gave it their all, but died from the disease regardless. Then you may say that 'the cancer got the best of him.'

It typically implies that despite best efforts the person still lost.

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In some ways, it describes being left with less.

For instance, if a promising race horse was raced to often, and therefore became broken down before he could live up to his potential, the overwork in her early years would have "got the best of him."

It can also suggest moral failure. "The lure of easy money and the pimp life got the best of him." That is, his better instincts, his better self, lost out to bling bling and 'hos.

In any case, when someone thing has "got the best" of Ted, there's still some version of Ted around to pity.

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