Gregory Harris reveals his most reviled redundancy:
“The single biggest fear of every Israeli…” “The single largest expenditure in the budget…” “The single most absurd thing I have ever heard…”
The use of “single” with the superlative, as far as I can tell, is never necessary. I can’t think of a “single” instance where it adds anything to the mere superlative. Yet this one makes it under the radar of even highly respected writers like William Safire and William F. Buckley, Jr.
I think the impulse to use it lies deep in the American love of superlatives. We glory in the biggest and the best and the most, and we are willing to stretch to absurd lengths to seem to achieve it: “The best-selling rock-and-roll record on a non-romantic theme given national distribution by a major record company between April 1957 and June of 1959.”
So when we come up with our precious superlative, we want to put a crown on its head, a purple robe around its shoulders, and a scepter in its hand. “Single” is that outfit. Ban it for life.
Charley Stough’s BONG Bull sent more folks this way yesterday; here’s an excerpt for those rare non-subscribers:
HACKNEY PATROL. Gene Charleton of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station joins the dismay brigade. “Talking heads
and other poohbahs on the political beat routinely over- and misuse the phrase ‘a line in the sand‘ to denote a point past which someone may not pass without consequences.
“This is painful to hear or see, when anyone who has grown up on ’13 Days to Glory’ knows that when Col. Travis drew the original ‘line in the sand,’ he was inviting patriotic Texians to step over, not keep back.”
Hal Davis of the Dayton Daily News shares:
I once worked with someone at UPI who loved cliches. He once changed my reference to a Turks playing “oud-like kaftas” (I probably should’ve said “a cousin to the guitar”) and made it “native instruments.”
His dream lede would have been a rock- and bottle-throwing mob attacking a Democratic presidential hopeful on a war-torn island nation.
Terry Murray of The Medical Post in Toronto offers:
Here’s the overworked cliche (mostly heard in TV news) I love to hate: something “changed his life forever” (and variations thereupon). “Forever” is a long time, and usually these statements are made well before the end of “forever.”
When I worked for the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business here in Toronto, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Grover Cleveland was president, we weren’t allowed to use “all-time,” as in “the stock his an all-time high,” for the same reason – “all time” wasn’t over yet.