To say the least and to say the least of it are two phrases that mean the same thing but are used in different parts of the world. We’ll look at both phrases, their origins and where they are most popularly used. We’ll also look at a few examples of these phrases used in sentences.
To say the least means that the statement preceding or following is an understatement. To say the least signifies that the statement has been made in the mildest terms possible, that in reality the situation is more dire, more superb, more impressive, etc. To say the least! is also a popular retort, when one believes that someone is underplaying a certain facet of a story. The phrase was first seen in the 1700s, it is now primarily an American phrase, though it is gaining popularity throughout the English-speaking world.
To say the least of it also means that the statement preceding or following is an understatement. This phrase is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as the preferred British English form of the phrase. However, Google Ngram shows the shorter version, to say the least, is overwhelmingly more popular. The word least comes from the Old English word læsest, a word with a Germanic origin.
The meteoric rise of search engines such as Alta Vista, and later on, Yahoo, were staggering, to say the least. (Forbes Magazine)
Given that the act’s words have already been effectively judicially amended, the campaign for further amendments seems odd, to say the least. (The Canberra Times)
This will be a delicate process, to say the least of it, undertaken at a time when the two governments are dealing with multifaceted other challenges. (The Irish Times)
He appears in ‘thrillers with violent, and to say the least of it, curious events … which had far-reaching international implications’. (The Telegraph)