Qualified success

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Apr 11 12:31:02 UTC 2002

>He asks whether it means "first-rate success" or one which has to be
>restricted in some way. He comments that people he hears using it (he
>is from Edmonton, Canada) mean the first sense.
>Is there evidence to suggest that the term is being misunderstood in
>this way to any significant degree? If so, it would return it to a
>sense which the OED marks as long obsolete.

Somebody has misunderstood "unqualified success", which is correctly used
in the sense "complete success". I doubt that "qualified success" has ever
been correctly used this way: the OED gives "qualified" = "perfect" etc.,
but I don't think it should precede "success" in this sense, and I tend to
doubt (without evidence) that it ever did except as a misunderstanding or

A qualified success is a success with qualifications, i.e., "a success, but
....", or an imperfect success.

Here is a good example picked up at a quick Web-glance:


-- where "unqualified success" (of the glaucoma treatment) (= complete
success) is restricted to those treated persons who no longer need
medication, while qualified successes include those who have normalized
pressures BUT still need medicine ... in this example, qualified success is
used in a manner which encompasses the unqualified successes also (that is,
the qualified-success group consists of those who are successful PERMITTING
qualification, or "qualified success" means "AT LEAST qualified success").

Quick Web search suggests that "qualified success" is still generally used
to mean "imperfect/restricted success". [Whew! I was afraid of what I was
going to find!] In support of this impression, I note that I get zero
responses for "entirely qualified success", "totally qualified success",
"absolutely qualified success", and "completely qualified success".

-- Doug Wilson

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