Let’s Just Prosecute to the FULL extent of the Law.

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Philip Dragonetti writes:

Another word that drives me up the wall is “fullest”—as in: “Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Would someone please tell me how the “fullest” extent of the law is greater than the “full” extent of the law?

I agree with Philip that “full” is sufficient when speaking of the extent of the law.

That’s not to say that “fullest extent” is always superfluous. For example:

“I live every day to its fullest extent and I don’t sweat the small stuff.” –Olivia Newton-John

Taking shelter in the dead is death itself, and only taking all the risk of life to the fullest extent is living.” –Rabindranath Tagore

The use of fullest in these examples is acceptable because the extent to which life can be lived depends upon external factors such as health and opportunity.

The law, on the other hand, is determinate. The “extent” is set. You may prosecute someone to the full extent of the law. The superlative form “fullest” is not required.

By now the expression “the fullest extent of the law” has taken on the character of a cliché. It is annoyingly imprecise, but it’s probably not going to go away.

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7 thoughts on “Let’s Just Prosecute to the FULL extent of the Law.”

  1. As a paralegal, I can tell you that the extent of the law is not exactly set. I agree it should be full extent; however, since attorneys are able to kind of mix and match charges, the extent is not limited. Maybe this is where it started?

  2. I was wondering whether the law is, as argued, determinate, and whether its “extent” is really is set. Isn’t the extent to which law can be used (e.g. for procession) also depend upon external factors?
    Since I’m in the middle of a working day I can only offer brief (and unfortunately shallow) examples for such external factors – but those may be for example health, status, wealth, education, and so forth – of either persecutor or defendant, those can be the political state (in politically sensitive situations), interests of the public (and ways in which those can be manipulated), and so on.
    Therefore, I believe that while those meanings were probably not in the mind of those who uses “the fullest extent of the law”, it may not be such a bad phrase after all.
    One may even want to consider “fullest extents of the law”, as law may have different faces and aspects 🙂

  3. And, in a similar vein, why do so many people need to use the phrase “on a daily basis” when “daily” by itself is quite adequate?

    So “I wash my hair daily” becomes “I wash my hair on a daily basis”. Grrrrr!

  4. Well. Hhmmpfh! The extent of the law is emphatically not set, in practice. There are lots of examples of disenfranchised poor folk getting the judge’s hammer and maximum hard time, while the criminals in white collars and tailored suits are given lighter sentences to be served in Club Fed. Like I say, “Hhmmpfh!”


  5. Well I think that daily refers to every day but on a daily basis implies custom and commitment to the fulllest extent of the word

  6. “On a daily basis” may have originated from school teachers’ assignments to write “a hundred words on (my favorite topic).”
    The teachers assignment becomes obscured by the student who is more concerned with how to fill up the paper with lots of words. There are always ways to string together unnecessary words. 45 years ago I read an article entitled “How To Write Like a Social Scientist.” I have forgotten the authors name but still recall his example: “Available evidence tends to indicate that it would not be unreasonable to suppose” instead of “Probably.”

  7. I don’t care about the law. There are ONLY two states of fullness. Either something is full or it is less than full. That makes the word full an absolute like “unique” or “perfect”. There is no such word as fullest.

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