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Winningest

Most participial adjectives are made comparative and superlative with more and most. For example, we say more troubling and most sickening instead of troublinger and sickeningest. So, to many English-speakers, the superlative adjective winningest—meaning having the most wins—sounds wrong. And indeed some peevish grammarians hate the word. Yet despite the existence of grammatically unquestionable alternatives (most winning, best), winningest is deeply entrenched in sports commentary and is not going away any time soon. Those who dislike it might as well get used to it.

Google News searches show winningest has been common since the 1940s,1 and there are scattered examples from earlier. The word has always been confined mainly to American and Canadian publications.2

Examples

The Bryan brothers, the world’s winningest-ever professional doubles team, also play in a band that will perform Friday. [Los Angeles Times]

Clare Drake, the winningest coach in Canadian university hockey history, is a teacher of teachers. [Cult of Hockey blog at Edmonton Journal]

As for the top-five winningest quarterbacks in NFL history (by percent), four of the five are certified babes. [AV Club Twin Cities]

It comes as no surprise that Kiprusoff needs only a single dubya to become the franchise’s all-time winningest goalie.  [Calgary Herald]

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References

1. Google News archive search^
2. Google News archive search of U.K., Irish, Australian, and New Zealand publications^

Other resources

A different opinion at Grammarphobia

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Comments

  1. The normal rule is that only one-syllable adjectives take -er and -erst, so redder and greener, but more or most turquoise. I suspect “winningest” was originally humorous, but when you think about it, “most winning” doesn’t mean the same thing, and “having the most wins” is long-winded. English has a way of adopting handy over correct. Come to think of it, also, you would prefer “more brown” to “browner”, to avoid confusion with “someone or something that browns”, so as usual in English, the rule has exceptions. But you would say “brownest” without hesitation. It’s a funny language.

  2. MatthewOgden says:

    Horrible horrible lazy word, borne of sports journo-jock stupidity. I guess the English language is the “losingest” in all this… Pathetic

  3. Velvet Android says:

    It’s a word that I hadn’t come across until relatively recently (I’m British, as one might conjecture from this ignorance/happy innocence) and at first sight actually thought it was a joke – it is a ridiculous and unwieldy-looking term that has perfectly good alternatives already existing. But no, of course the longer I spend online the more I find it. Probably the ugliest neologism out there, other than “snuck”…

  4. Uh not sure that it exists because of jocks, I looked this up because there’s an annoying law firm commercial where he says they’re the winningest and I can’t stand it. I was positive it wasn’t a word, are funnest and other such words also words? Or are they all nonwords that people just use because they’re dim?

    • Grammarist says:

      Yes, a word is any short, distinct verbal expression that denotes something, so “funnest” and the rest are certainly words, even if people don’t like them.

  5. WilliamOckhamensis says:

    Though how can someone who calls himself a grammarist instead of a grammarian object to neologisms?

    • Grammarist says:

      I hope this post doesn’t indicate that we ourselves object to “winningest.” We try to avoid that sort of thing.

      • WilliamOckhamensis says:

        Well, you don’t seem to like it much. I think it started off as a jocular usage. Also the “most winning” coach is the most personable one, not the one who wins the most games; you would have to say “the coach with the most wins” or something like that. Journalistic concision favours the one-word solution, which you get used to, however ungainly it may be. Journalists also try to make an impression, with vivid, inventive language that makes you take notice. Which it seems that “winningest” has succeeded in doing, even if it is by getting under people’s skin.

        • Grammarist says:

          What gives you the impression that we don’t like it much? I’m curious how that comes across, because we would want to edit that out if it is there. In truth, although we try not to overstate our biases in the post, we are very much on your side and agree with you completely. We do of course outline the argument against “winningest,” but only to dismiss the opposition as pointless, and then we refer to the people who oppose the word as “peevish grammarians,” which to us is a pretty negative term.

          The reason your impression is a little worrying is that we who write this website generally find the usage-peeve phenomenon very obnoxious, and we try to be among the few voices defending the things that peevish grammarians typically rail against–which is what we’re trying to do with this post–so the last thing we want to do is come across as part of the anti-“winningest” crowd.

  6. Nathaniel King says:

    I’ve never ever heard of this word before; never seen it printed or spoken. It actually makes me angry that it’s considered a real word. I’m actually upset over a word.

  7. Kaitain says:

    It’s like a five year old was briefly granted the power to invent one neologism and have it placed into the dictionary.

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