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It's not that the idea of rape as a weapon of war is implausible. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and most of all German women were raped by Red Army soldiers as they advanced through eastern Europe in 1944/45. The Japanese army raped its way across Korea. The Americans, in their turn, raped a multitude of women after taking Japan.

Does it mean, Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and [majority of all] German women were raped by Red Army soldiers...

Or, Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and [especially] German women were raped by Red Army soldiers...

And, will adding a comma after "most of all" change its meaning in the above context?

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  • 3
    To phrase it more clearly: "Hundreds of thousands of women (some Ukrainian, some Polish, but mostly German) were raped by Red Army soldiers..."
    – Hellion
    Nov 29, 2016 at 18:23
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    I do believe @Hellion is right about better phrasing. Are you writing this or are you trying to determine the meaning of something you've read?
    – Hank
    Nov 29, 2016 at 18:32
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    "Most of all" is an idiom meaning "most significantly".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 29, 2016 at 19:05
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    This is determining the meaning of something read. More context linked at the related Skeptics.SE question.
    – Brythan
    Nov 29, 2016 at 22:35

3 Answers 3

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Your second option is the correct one: most of all means ‘especially’ in that sentence. You can place a comma after it only if you place one before too:

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and, most of all, German women were raped […]

The basic sentence is:

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and German women […]

You cannot split and German with a single comma; but you can insert a parenthetical comment between commas:

[…] Polish and, most of all, German […]
[…] Polish and, let us not forget, German […]
[…] Polish and, last but not least, German […]

The pair of commas does not change the meaning, but it may improve readability, helping the parenthetical comment to stand out. In speech you do that with slight pauses before and after most of all.

If the author meant to say the Red Army raped most German women, most German, not most of all German would be the more natural wording. But putting that aside I think the sentence should then be:

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Polish and most German women […]

It’s not very elegant, but the last item of a list is usually preceded by and, not a comma. So if hundreds of thousands only refers to Ukrainian and Polish women, it should hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Polish, not hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish.

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Most of all

  • Used to indicate that something happens or is true to a greater extent than anything else.

  • To a greater extent than anything else

In that context, it means that the statement is more true (especially) for German women than for the other two nationalities. It's stating that there were more German victims than Ukrainian and Polish victims.

Although I do believe that "most of all", in that sentence, does usually have a comma afterwards, I do not believe it changes the meaning.

Update

My "usually" is based on scenarios that involve the oxford comma:

These each show the aforementioned usage, also showing the use of a comma beforehand.

The same excerpt can be found here wuth a comma before and after "most of all".

I say it does not change the meaning because it does not change what it is referencing. With or without the commas, it still references the German women victims, expressing that more of the victims were German.

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  • -1 Why does it usually have a comma afterwards? Please explain why it doesn't change the meaning. If you do so, I will both upvote and accept your answer. Thanks. Nov 29, 2016 at 18:38
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    @MohammadSakibArifin Please check the updated answer.
    – Hank
    Nov 29, 2016 at 19:52
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    I believe the extra comma provides emphasis. It's a dramatic pause calling out the following information.
    – Elby Cloud
    Nov 29, 2016 at 20:15
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    @ElbyCloud I do agree that it does add a beneficial emphasis, but does not alter the meaning.
    – Hank
    Nov 29, 2016 at 20:17
  • Can we please be really clear that "… more German victims than Ukrainian and Polish victims…" will by many be interpreted as ""… more German victims than Ukrainian and Polish victims put together…" and that that isn't helpful, even though it might just be true. I suspect what was meant was the rather different "… more German victims than either Ukrainian or Polish victims…" which is very different. Dec 17, 2016 at 22:27
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In general and more clearly in the examples give, “most of all” is not open to interpretation. Both grammatically and historically, it means “more than any other”.

Neither “… last but not least…” nor “…let us not forget…” comes vaguely close to that meaning. “…let us not forget…” doesn’t really deal with number and “… last but not least…” is normally used where the last-mentioned member doesn’t come very far up the list, and often when the list is long enough that by the time we reach the end, we might have forgotten who went before.

“… most of all German…” implies there were more Germans than any other individual nationality.

In that sentence, “especially” would mean “particularly” or “significantly” but not cleary “most of all” for the simple reason that “especially / particularly / significantly” never but “most of all” always implies a numeric comparison, assumed if not clearly enumerated as “more than any other”.

The basic sentence is “Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian, Polish and German women […]” only in a context where there is no significant difference between the nationalities, which here is clearly disproved by the addition of “most of all”. Were that not true, the comparison to Japanese and Americans would be greatly more problematic; the more so since the only real clue to scale is in the “… multitude of women…”, given quite separately from Ukrainian, Polish, German or Red… “… mostly German…” might very well be inferred to mean more Germans than all the other nationalities put together.

“majority of all” is a mistake (except in wholly different contexts). If “majority” had a place here it would be “the majority” without “of all”. However, “… the majority (of them) German” would clearly imply what “… mostly German…” only inferred, ie, more Germans than all the other nationalities together.

Adding either a single or pair of commas will not change the meaning at all, even if it slightly alters the emphasis. It might well change what this, that or the other reader prefers or scholar finds acceptable.

“these, those and most of all the other” needs no commas

“these, those, and most of all the other” doesn’t suffer from the single comma

“these, those, and most of all, the other” might be slightly archaic but doesn’t really suffer the double commas

“these, those and, most of all the other” seems both archaic and to suffer, if only slightly

“these, those and, most of all, the other” is slightly archaic but hardly suffers

“these, those and most of all, the other” seems more natural as well as more clear than the original

Other combinations might be available.

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