At Least 2 Words We Can Do Without

At least one front-page story in Sunday’s edition of the Jacksonville, Ill., Journal-Courier captured my attention. It began:

“At least one Jacksonville citizen and the city’s police chief have a difference of opinion over how complaints against police officers should be handled.”

It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen “at least one.” You’re writing against deadline, and you hear that somebody did something. If somebody did, maybe somebody else did too. So to be safe, you make it:

“At least one victim of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre has indicated he intends to sue, claiming that the theater failed to adequately protect its audience.” (ABC TV News, July 25)

“There appeared to be several emotional people and at one point, at least one officer was seen firing what appeared to be pellets into the pavement that left marks on the surface in an effort to disperse the crowd.” (WFAA-TV, Dallas/Fort Worth, July 24)

“At least one student said he was not moved by the promises of Fisher and the trustees. ‘Actions speak louder than words,’ Oscar Peña told the college leaders. ‘From my point of view, what have y’all been doing?’” (San Francisco Chronicle, July 10)

So one victim intends to sue, one officer was seen firing, one student said he wasn’t moved. But the cautious reporter begins with “at least”:

“A group of Rocky Hill High School students were honored at the board of education meeting last week for their assistance in getting the $45 million June referendum on the high school project passed. And at least one administrator believes the organization caused the wide margin in the voting.” (Rocky Hill Patch, Connecticut, June 29)

“Alligator Gar: they’re big, slimy, toothy, have been around for 180 million years, and have at least one professor mesmerized.” (WGNO News, Terrebonne/Lafourche Parish, La., June 27)

“If you ask Whitehall Borough Mayor James F. Nowalk, there’s really no question: The Cherryvale Path is fair game for area residents and visitors who want to take that shortcut from Cherryvale Drive to Springmeadow Court. But at least one person disagrees with the mayor, posting ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ and ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs along the walkway and adjoining ramp.” (Baldwin-Whitehall Patch, Pa., June 22)

One administrator, one mesmerized professor, one poster of signs. At least.

“Was Blair Walsh rushing his kicks last year? At least one person thinks so.” (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga., June 25)

“Metro’s latest snafu left hundreds of commuters stranded for hours Tuesday evening. And at least one person thinks the malfunction was just waiting to happen.” (WTOP FM, Washington, D.C., April 25)

“When the national men’s rugby teams from the United States and Italy take the field at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium, the players won’t be wearing a lot of protective equipment. But at least one person thinks they should.” (Houston Chronicle, June 22)


Three thinkers: a football fan, a Metro doomsayer, a rugby critic. With thinkers, who knows? Surely there are more. So to be safe: At least one.

What’s not to like? Well, “at least” just isn’t necessary. It could be omitted from all these stories without losing an iota of information. “One” by itself, or even “a” or “an,” will do. And in at least one case, that of the mesmerized professor, it’s unlikely searching high and low you’d be able to find another.

Have I perhaps invented a new item for usage purists to complain about? If so, I hope it makes its way into at least one usage handbook.

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