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I searched the phrase Last but not the least in Google. Google dictionary shows the meaning

last in order of mention or occurrence but not of importance

Shouldn't it be:

last in order of mention or occurrence but not of less importance

I am confused. Thanks.

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  • Please just post the text; that screenshot is very annoying here. You can just mention that it is a google Oxford Dictionary return.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:24
  • @Lambie I thought Google might be showing different dictionary location wise. Because I've heard Google search results and contents differ country to country (even inside country too, sometimes). That's why I've attached it. Anyway, I removed it now.
    – ramanujan
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:41
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    (oops; typoed) The phrase is more commonly used as "last, but NOT least", implying "last [in order], but not least [significant]". It is often accompanied by the preface, "in no particular order", followed by a list of items. It simply acts as an marker the list is complete and emphatic reminder to not attach significance to the order or the list. Think - dictating a grocery list to someone; now they know there's no more items. But can also be said to actually emphasize the last item, ie: last, but not least, diapers! You better not forget the diapers, but also buy the rest of the groceries
    – Ian W
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 6:10
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    It's last but not least - no the. Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 9:33
  • @Kate Bunting yes. It was my mistake. Habitually, I write the before superlative degree. So I wrote that.
    – ramanujan
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 10:11

3 Answers 3

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The Google definition is correct, but poorly written, because it can be parsed with two different meanings, only one of which is correct. I believe you've parsed their definition to have the wrong meaning.

The Google definition has some implied words that the reader is meant to fill in in their heads. Their definition can be expanded to read:

last in order of mention or occurrence but not [last in order] of importance

This is the correct meaning of that expression.

In the Google Dictionary example, it means "Gary in midfield" is not the least important player.

I think you're parsing the Google definition like this:

last in order of mention or occurrence but not of [any] importance

This is a valid way to parse the definition. Most people wouldn't parse it this way because being last in order and being unimportant often go together, but parsed that way, it implies they are normally thought of as different.

Your attempt to fix the definition doesn't work because the expression is about the superlatives "last" and "least", but your definition includes the comparative "less". Less than what? I think you meant, "... but not of least importance." This would fix the ambiguity problem.

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  • Yes. That's how I parsed in my head. However, in my attempt if less is replaced by least then will it work?
    – ramanujan
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 19:51
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    @ramanujan Yes. With "least", the definition would only have one possible meaning, and it would be the correct one
    – gotube
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 19:54
  • I feel that in order to categorize it as poorly written, you have offered a second reading that is even less clear than the original: with that 'but' in there (rather than, say, 'and' or 'and also'), I'm not sure any definite meaning can be attributed to it.
    – sdenham
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 3:34
  • Of course by cynical interpretation, this carries the hidden implication that somebody else in the list is of least importance, but we're just not going to say who to avoid hurting their feelings. But if you're being more generous it could mean that everyone is equally important. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:38
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The definition is using a parallel structure:

last in order of mention or occurrence but not last in order of importance.

The repeated phrase "last in order" is correctly omitted, as the final part parallels the first.

There is no error here.

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    Ok. That clears my doubt. Tnx. By the way, you put sign " at the end by mistake.
    – ramanujan
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 19:39
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    At first read, it's somewhat confusing for beginners.
    – ramanujan
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 19:40
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    But dictionaries are not written for beginners. English-English dictionaries are for native speakers and advanced learners.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:01
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    @JamesK I think ramajujan isn't trying to criticize the dictionary here, just stating their experience.
    – justhalf
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 6:18
  • @James K Why are you using rude language? That's not how a cultured person behave.
    – ramanujan
    Commented Jan 8 at 5:52
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You are right, it does mean that but this is a conventional way of saying it that every native speaker understands.

If we are listing people or things they may be in any order, or none. However one of them will inevitably be last in the list. In order to emphasise that the order used is not that of importance it is often said something like

"Adam, Bob, Charlie ... and last but not least Zebedee"

Here we've used alphabetical order, but said that Zebedee is not necessarily the least important person in the list. Similarly you could be just listing them from Left to Right where position has no significance.

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