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.