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.