Posted by: episystechpubs | February 28, 2019

Editor’s Corner: If Nothing Else

“If nothing else” is a remarkably difficult phrase to define, which might be why Merriam-Webster gives this uncharacteristically muddled definition:

  • if nothing else: used to say that something is probably the only thing that is true, acceptable, desirable, or certain because there are no better/worse possibilities

Some dictionaries adopt a narrower definition, such as the following (from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English):

  • if nothing else: used to emphasize one good quality or feature that someone or something has, while suggesting that it might be the only good one

Examples:

  • “Andrea’s work has always been very neat, if nothing else.” (Macmillan Dictionary)
  • “The food is cheap, if nothing else.” (Merriam-Webster)

For these sentences to make sense, the reader needs to recognize that “neat” and “cheap” are positive characteristics.

“If nothing else” can also mean the opposite (emphasizing the only bad quality that something has). For example, you could say, “I’m not buying that new sportscar. It’s too expensive, if nothing else.”

There are many other meanings the phrase can take, such as the following:

  • if you do nothing else (“If nothing else, you should send him a card.”)
  • if there’s no alternative (“If nothing else, there’s the party to go to this evening.”)
  • if they have nothing else in common (“Everybody knew each other, and had grown up in proximity, if nothing else.”)

If you’re not careful, you can make too big of a logical leap and end up confusing your reader.

Examples:

  • “The sun is hot, if nothing else.”
  • “The Statue of Liberty is green, if nothing else.”
  • “That tree is leafy, if nothing else.”

When you’re writing a business email or a technical document, you don’t want to leave anything open to interpretation. Use more precise language.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Ben Ritter | Technical Writing Supervisor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 | www.Symitar.com

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