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I know that "No less than somebody/something" means that this somebody/something is important.

What I don't understand is why this idiom means so!! What I literally understand is that "No less than" means that nothing is less than that somebody/something. Which means that every thing is more than that somebody/something and nothing is less, making that somebody/something the least of the group.

Could any one correct my understanding with explaining why so?!


Illustrative Example:

"Almost two dozen representatives flew in for meetings with top officials, including no less than the country's president."

No less than here means: A person who was not less [of an important person] than the president himself.

  • 2
    Why do you think no less than X means that nothing is less than X? No here really just means ‘not’, so if X is no less than Y, that means it is not less than Y; in other words, it is as much as (or possibly even more than) Y. “No less than 20 people came” means that the number of people who came was not less than 20. In practice, it actually something slightly different: that exactly 20 people came, and that that is to be considered a high number. But it certainly doesn’t mean that nothing is less than 20 people. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 5 '14 at 1:49
  • Consider this example "Almost two dozen representatives flew in for meetings with top officials, including no less than the country's president." What is not less than what in this example? – Omar Dec 5 '14 at 2:17
  • Including a person who was not less [of an important person] than the president himself. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 5 '14 at 2:19
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Let us consider the example of "no less than the country's president attended".

In many countries with the title president, they are of considerable political power. In most of the rest, it is still a position of considerable esteem. As such, there would be few, or no, potential attendees of greater rank.

So, the set of people who are "not less" than the president will be very small; either just the president or else the president and a handful of other people.

To have someone from that small set attend is therefore remarkable.

So, it literally means "someone who ranks as least as highly as the president attended", and the person referred to in this roundabout fashion is indeed the president. You would not expect someone to say "No less than the president attended. It was the Taoiseach who has more real power".

This is a from of litotes where we use an understatement to produce emphasis, often a double-negative or negating a comparison to produce the opposite comparison as in this case ("no less than" meaning "at least as great as").

Litotes is found in many languages, and very common in English. We have "not bad" for "good", "not bad looking" for "attractive", "no spring chicken" for "old", and so on. English has quite the history with it, as Old English poetry used it a lot.

It can perhaps be best read as "Wow, the president attended, can you imagine, the president. That's the most impressive person there could possibly be attending!", but from a more reserved speaker.

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  • An answer of not inconsiderable merit! :) – A E Dec 5 '14 at 11:22
  • There is a grey area which hasn't been solved for me yet! Let's consider these two examples: Pre-consideration: Tom is a poor person, and Paul is a great person. Example 1: No less than Tom attended the party. Meaning: Tom was the least person who attended the party, I don't know whether the others are "great" people or not, they may be bad also, but not as much bad as Tom. Example 2: No less than Paul attended the party. Meaning: Paul was the least greatest person who attended the party, Definitely the others are "great" people, and Paul is the least of them in greatness. – Omar Dec 5 '14 at 22:38
  • In Example 1, I understood that No less than was used to describe Tom's position compared to the others (as the least), without the ability to describe the others definitely. In Example 2, I understood that No less than was used to describe Paul's position compared to the others (as the least), with the ability to describe the others as they are great people. – Omar Dec 5 '14 at 22:39
  • What makes the grey area with me is how to define clearly the usage of No less than. When to use it to describe the subject (Tom or Paul themselves)? When to use it to describe the others (attendees)? When to use it to describe both the subject and the others? What I've found in Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms that No less than is used to describe the subject only with one only description that the subject is a great person or thing. – Omar Dec 5 '14 at 22:40

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