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not the least of which

Discussion in 'English Only' started by gubei, Jun 20, 2009.

  1. gubei Junior Member

    Korean
    I've seen an English native speaker say "not the least of which," but I don't seem to know the exact meaning of it. For example,

    (Ex) Tom is a bad guy, not the least of which he is always criticizing others.

    Could anyone explain what exactly the underlined expression means in the sentence? Any ironic or sarcastic nuances?
     
  2. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    Hello Gubei,

    "Not the least of which" usually follows a plural noun phrase that implies a set of things or qualities, and draws attention to a significant member of that set, e.g.

    1. Tom has many engaging qualities, not the least of which is his considerable good humour.

    Thus here, the underlined part is the set, and the emboldened part is the significant member of that set.

    In your example, which is extremely elliptic, the set is only implicit:

    2. Tom is a bad guy, [with many bad qualities], not the least of which [is the fact that] he is always criticizing others.

    All the best,

    MrP
     
  3. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Your example isn't grammatical I'm afraid - I think you need to find the original example.

    Not least of which (without "the") can be used to highlight a specific aspect as in "Tom has many faults, not least of which (is) his constant criticism of others".
     
  4. gubei Junior Member

    Korean
    Thanks, MrP and timpeac!
     
  5. zc0000 New Member

    Chinese
    Hm, today I find another example using the phrase:

    This is useful for several reasons, not the least of which is the Cookies that are being transmitted.
     
  6. Prower Senior Member

    Russian
    This is a great observation. It means that both are possible - Not least of which/Not the least of which

    What is the difference?

    1) "Tom has many faults, not least of which (is) his constant criticism of others"
    2) "Tom has many faults, not the least of which (is) his constant criticism of others"

    3) Tom has many engaging qualities, not least of which is his considerable good humour.
    4)
    Tom has many engaging qualities, not the least of which is his considerable good humour.
     
  7. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Leaving out the "the" sounds much more idiomatic to my ear.
     
  8. vyaakaran New Member

    Bengali
    Given the original response defining the usage as choosing "a" significant member of the set introduced by a plural noun phrase, using "the" would be appropriate, to denote the definiteness of the selection of the significant member from a presupposed set. However, "least" also points towards uniqueness, and therefore may suffice the definiteness requirement, making the determinerless option available. It'd be interesting to see if a corpus-based study finding any usage difference between the two uses; my hypothesis would be -- using a 'double definiteness' strategy (i.e., using both the and least, the latter being obligatory anyway) may enhance the saliency of the membership status of the item in question, whereas dropping the definite article would indicate 'a merely significant member' but not 'a really significant member'. Fun.
     

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