... one of the single biggest areas of abuse ...

panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
"Misuse of apostrophes is one of the single biggest areas of abuse in written English."

It might just be me, but this sentence, which appears in a university guide to style, made me screech a little. Could it really be correct to talk about one of the single biggest somethings?
What do you think?
(I'm not questioning the overall point of the sentence, only the highlighted phrase.0
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I've always thought "one of the single most..." anything didn't make much sense. It seems like it should be "one of the most..." or the "the single most...", but not mixed. Otherwise, what does "single" mean in the sentence? If it's one of many, it's not the single one.

    I feel your pain, Panjandrum.
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    If I pause to think about it, I find the title construction to be silly nonsense. I am accustomed to here phrasing like that, it sounds perfectly natural to me and doesn't "raise my hackles". It strikes me as being one of those constructions where, by convention, we know what it means even if on close examination it is a muddle.

    It reminds me of sausage, it tastes good, and it is best not to enquire into the contents too closely. :D
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If it's one of many, it's not the single one.
    But if it is one of many, it is still one - I'm scratching around for a defence for this guy. If you are the only woman in a group, you are the single woman but one of many. It's a question of categorization. I think James is right here, though: the writer has done nothing to differentiate this area of abuse, other than saying it's one of the biggest - it's not in a separate category, so it really isn't the single one. I don't think we can defend the writer on that score.

    The single most important area of abuse is a sort of inflated way of saying the most important area of abuse, which is a better, less rhetorical way of making the point.

    One of the biggest areas of abuse works ok: you've got several areas of abuse and this is one of the biggest of them - the adjective is weak, but that's beside the point. One of the areas works, why doesn't one of the single areas? For the reason I looked at in the first para - there's nothing, as far as we know, particularly single about this area.

    Rather a longwinded way of confirming our first impressions, Panj. It's delicious that it came in a guide to style. I wonder if the writer contributes to this forum. Perhaps I am he.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Of course "apostrophe abuse" is a serious matter. Under-reported because of the embarrassment and with few resources of their own, apostrophes are frequently resigned to a life of abuse. In our town there is a "safe house" for run away apostrophes, but this kind of support group is a rarity nowadays.

    And even when not abused, there are so few suitable adjectives to enliven the apostrophe.

    I applaud the university guide for shining a harsh light on this ugly practice.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    It looks like utter nonsense. Interesting that it should appear in a university guide to style. Does the author mean "individual"? Would that make any more sense? Considering some of the things I've seen quoted from style guides recently I'm glad I've never read one, it could do irreparable damage to my already flailing English.
    I'm with Packard, do your bit - adopt an apostrophe today!
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    PLEASE do not discuss the use or abuse of apostrophes.
    As I thought I made clear in the original post, I am asking about the phrase that is the thread title, NOT about the use or abuse of apostrophes.

    Thanks for comments - it's not just me then.

    The points I have difficulty with are:
    one of the single -> what could that mean?
    one of the ... biggest -> surely "the biggest" is superlative, there cannot be more than one?
    the single biggest -> could there be more than one biggest?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    one of the ... biggest -> surely "the biggest" is superlative, there cannot be more than one?
    Oddly, I don't have a problem with "one of the biggest" (although I'd probably use "largest" rather than "biggest").

    If, for example, there was a huge attendance recorded at an event that was one of the top five attendance counts in history, I wouldn't have a problem with "today Wimbledon drew one of the largest/biggest crowds in the history of the event, exceeded only three times in the last century."

    I don't think of "biggest" as necessarily singular. "The biggest earthquakes in California usually result in a number of casualties and a disruption of daily life, but small earthquakes happen on a daily basis in California and often go unnoticed by the general population."
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Single most appalling ...
    Single largest minnows...
    Single most endearing tyrants...

    I think single has lost its lexical value in these constructions, and has come to be used as nothing more than an intensifier in
    comparative statements. What the style guide writer did with it is one of the single most senseless and embarrassing things I've seen since the last time I tried to use apostrophe's :rolleyes: correctly.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    Oddly, I don't have a problem with "one of the biggest" (although I'd probably use "largest" rather than "biggest").

    If, for example, there was a huge attendance recorded at an event that was one of the top five attendance counts in history, I wouldn't have a problem with "today Wimbledon drew one of the largest/biggest crowds in the history of the event, exceeded only three times in the last century."

    I don't think of "biggest" as necessarily singular. "The biggest earthquakes in California usually result in a number of casualties and a disruption of daily life, but small earthquakes happen on a daily basis in California and often go unnoticed by the general population."
    I agree. The 10 hottest years in the last thousand years were all within the last 15 years. 1998 was one of the hottest years of the last thousand years, but 2005 was the hottest. It all makes sense.
    The only problem is with "one of the single" - this is surely a tautology.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    You have the comparative, superlative, super superlative, ultra super superlative, et al. As shown below:

    big
    bigger
    biggest
    single biggest
    one of the single biggest
    beyond one of the single biggest
    ne plus ultra beyond one of the single biggest

    I think this is all from the influence of exuberant advertising language. The language of the advertising is migrating into the mainstream, and in this case into the schools.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    You have the comparative, superlative, super superlative, ultra super superlative, et al. As shown below:

    big
    bigger
    biggest
    single biggest
    one of the single biggest
    beyond one of the single biggest
    ne plus ultra beyond one of the single biggest

    I think this is all from the influence of exuberant advertising language. The language of the advertising is migrating into the mainstream, and in this case into the schools.
    :)

    "beyond one of the single biggest" - that's my favorite of yours, Packard. And while we're at it, we can add "single most unique" to it. (ugh!)
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    the website of Cambridge Dictionary gives following definition for the word "episode":

    "one of the single parts into which a story is divided, especially when it is broadcast on the television or radio".

    What do you think about the use of the word single in this particular sentence?
    It looks a bit odd at first reading, but I suppose you can think of a whole story as being divided into single parts where each part is a self-contained story in its own right. So an "episode" would be one of them (one of the single parts...).
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    "one of the single parts into which a story is divided, especially when it is broadcast on the television or radio".

    What do you think about the use of the word single in this particular sentence?
    Horrible! OED:Episode: "Each of the installments into which a film, television or radio drama, etc. is divided for transmitting as a series."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Re post 13

    Here's another vote for "This is a really strange use of the word single".

     
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