"Best read stories of 2021"

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Here's the header of a recent email from a newsletter that I somehow ended up subscribed to:

That use of "best" seemed odd to me. Presumably what they mean is that the cited stories were read by the most people, or at least clicked on the most times, not that they were read in the most good way…

But sense 2 of Wiktionary's entry for the adjective best is glossed as "Most; largest", with the example sentence "Unpacking took the best part of a week." Presumably there should be a similar sense for adverbial best, though it's not there at present. And the OED's sense 5 for best, adj., n. is glossed  "That is the largest or greatest; most. Chiefly in the best part of".

So arguably "best read" is (close to being?) a way of saying "most read".

And a quick check on Google News shows that Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News is not alone in using "best read" this way:

And presumably the Poynter Institute has capable proofreaders:

So to the many LLOG posts deconstructing the peeving of others, we can add one more that calls my own reactions into question.

Update — I don't have time for a complete analysis, but there are other phrases of the form "best VERBed" meaning "most VERBed", e.g. "best watched" as in this passage from the 2015 book The Economics of Professional Road Cycling:

Interestingly, the authors contrast "best watched" with "least watched", not "worst watched".



  1. Joe Fineman said,

    January 7, 2022 @ 9:21 pm

    Cf. best-known, best-selling.

    [(myl) "Best known" is different, because the non-superlative form is "well known" — "well read" means something quite different. "Well selling" isn't commonly used, though you can say that something is selling well.]

  2. Tim Leonard said,

    January 7, 2022 @ 10:02 pm

    Certainly "best-loved" is in common use (8,200,000 ghits).

    [(myl) Again, "well loved" is the non-superlative form, and the phrase seems to refer (at least originally) to the quality of the love rather than to the quantity of lovers.]

  3. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 1:20 am

    Maybe there are some really good stories out there still waiting to be read.

  4. unekdoud said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 7:24 am

    I'd assume best-read and best-watched are superlatives of well-read and well-watched, with no corresponding negative version in use.

    [(myl) But (for me anyhow) "best read" is generally an evaluation of how "well read" an individual is, not how widely read a book or article has been. I concede that there are plenty of examples where "best read" is used to mean "read by the most people", but a few quick searches don't turn up cases were "well read" means "read by many people".]

  5. Bob Ross said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 8:56 am

    Isn't best-known and best-read the same thing?

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 11:53 am

    Note, however, that "best reading" (as a gerund) definitely does *not* mean most common or popular reading, but "the reading most likely to actually be accurate" in the opinion of a particular (self-proclaimed?) expert and/or a purported consensus of such experts. That's true for both its core philological sense (i.e. the variant to be preferred when there is manuscript variation in the wording of an ancient text) and its extended sense where it is more or less synonymous with "best interpretation."

  7. Luke Davis said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 2:01 pm

    Reminds me of a line from The Simpsons:

    Two, four, six, eight, Homer's crime was very great!
    …Great meaning large or immense. We use it in the pejorative sense.

  8. Doug said,

    January 8, 2022 @ 5:57 pm

    Is it supposed to be 'best /ɹɛd/' or 'best /ɹid/'? The phrase 'best read stories of 2021' doesn't seem quite right to me with either one, but neither seems totally unacceptable. If I think of it as an odd way of saying 'best reads of 2021' (ie with /ɹid/) then it makes sense to me.

  9. Bloix said,

    January 9, 2022 @ 9:02 am

    "from the 2015 book The Economics of Professional Road Cycling"

    Man, this is thorough research! Chapeau!

  10. LaserJay said,

    January 13, 2022 @ 9:23 am

    "best" is another way of saying "top," right? it's in the subtitles: "we're counting down the Top 10 stories from 2021 on" … "the Capitol invasion topped the list" … "A Washington Post scooped … topped Chartbeat's annual list"…

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