Wu Ting
How would you interpret this sentence? How would you interpret the fourth sentence ‘He was certainly the best hated man in the ship’? How would you interpret the word ‘best’? Does it mean most here? Thank you. PS: the excerpt is taken from ‘Mr. Know-All’ written by W. Somerset Maugham.the excerpt: …He ran everything. He managed the sweeps, conducted the auctions, collected money for prizes at the sports, got up quoit and golf matches, organized the concert and arranged the fancy-dress ball. He was everywhere and always. He was certainly the best hated man in the ship. We called him Mr. Know-all, even to his face. He took it as a compliment. But it was at mealtimes that he was most intolerable. For the better part of an hour then he had us at his mercy. He was hearty, jovial, loquacious and argumentative. He knew everything better than anybody else, and it was an affront to his overweening vanity that you should disagree with him. He would not drop a subject, however unimportant, till he had brought you round to his way of thinking. The possibility that he could be mistaken never occurred to him. He was the chap who knew…
Oct 26, 2018 10:19 AM
Answers · 4
This is a good question, because it is an unusual use of language. I think your interpretation is exactly right, as is Stephen's first reading; I'm struggling with Stephen's second interpretation, which I understand, but I don't think it fits Somerset Maugham's wording - it would apply to "hated best" or "hatedly best" but not to the text as it stands. The word 'best' usually has positive connotations, but there is nothing positive about being hated; the juxtaposition is somehow deliberate. From the extract, I infer that Somerset Maugham has chosen it for ironic/humorous effect: the man he describes is not evil, he is a buffoon, hated because he is an idiot, a bore and a time-waster; among the crew, the process of hating him would involve laughing at him, rather than fearing him.
October 26, 2018
Your interpretation is correct. It's an unusual choice of words. I believe Maugham is deliberately reversing "best-liked." "Best-liked" is so common that it is often spelled as a hyphenated compound word. The phrase "best-liked man" is familiar and carries a cloud of associations: someone so charming, so full of bonhomie, that everybody enjoys his company. By manufacturing the opposite, "best hated," he is drawing an analogy to "best-liked." I've never tried to analyze it, but "best-liked" carries both the idea that people like him more (he's more charming than the second-best-liked man), and also that more people like him than they like anybody else. These two ideas are just muddled and mixed-up together. If I'm right, the reason why Maugham uses "best" rather than "most" is that "best-liked" is the common, idiomatic phrase and "most-liked" isn't. Reversing a phrase for humorous effect--even though it no longer makes logical sense--is a common form of wit. It depends on the listener recognizing what has been reversed. For example, the phrase "a winning personality" means a pleasant, engaging, friendly personality. If I wanted to describe someone who was socially awkward and repelled people, I might possibly say "he has um, what to say, a losing personality." "Losing personality" isn't a real phrase and doesn't make logical sense, but I would expect people to catch the idea that it is the reverse of the phrase "winning personality."
October 26, 2018
no, it doesn't mean most. I think it means there are some hated men on the ship, including him - but he is the best of them (hard-working, etc)..
October 26, 2018
Hi Wu Ting, This is interesting. It could have 2 meanings and both apply here. They hate him and he rises to the status of most hated or highly hated... "best hated". hey hate him because he is impossible to fail. He is perfect, more knowledgable, more jovial and he knows it. Therefore, they hate him for being best and having no humility. "best hated". I certainly understand the question. Well done. I hope this helps, Stephen
October 26, 2018
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Wu Ting
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French
Learning Language
English