Posts Tagged ‘superlatives’

“The Single Greatest Country in the World”

In comparatives, redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on January 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Marco Rubio campaign ad

So it’s the turn of the third-place scrambler, the one with the fully Hispanic name, and it’s about an English error so common few of my writeous colleagues even notice any more. But I can’t ignore it. This time there isn’t even anyplace to put the excess word.

A superlative like “greatest” is already singular. There is none greater. Often, the “single” is simply misplaced as in, say, “I’d like to thank the single largest donor to my campaign,” one among many. Australia could be the greatest single-country continent, but I don’t see any other way to get to a greatest single country.

There could be great things for a country to do alone — humanitarian achievements, support for the arts, peacemaking — but then we’d probably use words like “solo” or indeed, “alone,” and use identification of the nation to modify something like “effort” or “action.” That might be too specific for a campaign ad, or indeed for this campaign over all.

Come to think of it, there is one thing I like about Rubio’s double superlative: It celebrates the current greatness of the USA, instead of asserting some vague past and greater greatness to which we might return. That may be all Rubio and his writers wanted, to distinguish their campaign from that other one that has made greatness its watchword. And there certainly isn’t any more greatness to which yet another campaign might aspire.


“This may be the single most important night of the campaign.”

In comparatives, thoughtless patterns on October 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I fell off the “daily” wagon pretty quickly, but this repeat of a nearly constant abuse (which has almost certainly been uttered tonight by others in addition to Brian Williams on “NBC Nightly News”) stirred me to action. As it stands so often, that gratuitous single may try to, but of course cannot, intensify the superlative most important. I could be charitable and say it’s just redundant, but I would so like to see the single doing the job the speakers want it to do: ‘the most important single night.’

Come to think of it, I doubt even the pundits uttering this easy mess think that the presidential debate is going to be more important than the night they will spend enticing us to stay up all night counting ballots.

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