Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Random thoughts on all in all

All in all
In an article from the Economist about an important new discovery in cosmology there appeared the following sentence:
All in all, then, a big day for cosmology—assuming the results hold up.
I got to wondering about the origins of the expression 'all in all', and decided to have a poke round Google Books.

First of all, here are a couple of dictionary definitions:
all in all - on the whole:
'all in all it’s been a good year'

Oxford Dictionaries Online

all in all - everything considered:
'all in all, it was a great success'

Collins English Dictionary

To which I'd add that it is also occasionally used to mean - in total or altogether:
  • There were three from our class, and four from each of the other two classes, so all in all there were eleven of us.


The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest use as being in the Great Bible of 1539. The Great Bible was the first translation of the bible officially authorised in England and was prepared by Miles Coverdale. The second edition had a preface by Thomas Cranmer, so it is sometimes called Cranmer's Bible. Here's how this earliest known example of all in all looks in a 1553 edition:

The Newe Testament in Englishe Translated After the Greke (The Great Bible) 1553

But that doesn't look like the meaning we're used to today and given in those two dictionaries. It turns out that all in all originally had a rather different meaning. This becomes a little clearer when we look at how that expression developed from earlier English translations of the Bible:

St Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians

Wyclif 1380Tyndale 1534Great Bible 1538
whanne alle thingis ben suget to hym, thanne the sonne him silf schal be suget to him that made suget alle thingis to hym, that god be alle thingis in alle thingis. When all thinges are subdued unto him: then shall the sonne also himself be subjecte unto him that put all thinges under him, that God maye be all in all things. When all things are subdued unto him: then shall the sonne also himself be subject unto him, that put all thynges under him, that God maye be all in all.
Geneva 1557Rheims 1582King James 1611
And when all things shallbe subdued unto him: then shall the Sonne also him selfe be subject unto him, that dyd put all thinges under him, that God may be all, in all thinges. And when all things shal be subdued to him: then the Sonne also him self shal be subject unto him, that subdued al things unto him, that God maye be al in al. And when all things shall bee subdued unto him: then shal the Sonne also himselfe bee subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

The English Hexapla GB

We get some sense of all in all things, or everything. A look at some older dictionaries reinforces this:

In dictionaries

Reputation is all in all in War
a la guerre tout depend de la reputation.
(... everything depends on reputation)

The royal dictionary abridged in two parts: I. French and English. II ..., Abel Boyer, London 1728 GB

To be all in all with one
ser íntimo con alguno, ser su privado, ser su todo en todo, en lo literal.
Reputation is all in war
la reputación es el todo en la guerra.
(reputation is everything ...)

A Dictionary, Spanish and English, Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, London 1800 GB

All in all is a phrase which signifies, all things to a person, or every thing desired.
Thou shalt be all in all, and I in thee, Forever. Milton

A Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, New York 1828 GB (London 1832)

all-in-all - everything
all in all with - very intimate or familiar with

Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, London 1857 GB

all in all - He is all in all to me, that is, the dearest object of my affection. God shall be all in all means all creation shall be absorbed or gathered into God. The phrase is also used adverbially, meaning altogether, as:—
“Take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.”

Shakespeare: Hamlet, ii. 2

Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer 1898 Bartleby

The only modern dictionary where I could find this older meaning is Collins:
the object of one's attention or interest
"you are my all in all"

Collins English Dictionary

The story so far

We have, then, the original meaning of everything or everything desired or object of desire. This next extract gives an example of a variant on this - all in all with, defined in the Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English above as intimate with, familiar with, and which we'll be looking at a bit later on. The second example in this extract shows something like our modern meaning, with a transitional expression with take:

A Dictionary of Idioms: French and English, William A. Bellenger, london 1830

So we can now divide the use of all in all into five categories:
  1. the original meaning - everything, everything desired etc
  2. a variant of this - all in all with - meaning something like intimate with
  3. later constructions with take, closer to the modern meaning.
  4. the modern meaning of on the whole, everything considered, without take.
  5. a less common modern use meaning in total
There are 322 instances of all in all in the British National Corpus. Out of a random selection of 50, two had the earlier meaning of everything, one included take, one meant in total and the remaining 46 had the standard modern meaning of on the whole, all things considered, and were used without take.

1. everything, everything desired etc

Now let's take a look at some more sixteenth century examples

The firste parte of Churchyardes Chippes, Thomas Churchyard, London 1575

The Marriage of Wit and Science, from Five anonymous plays, edited by John Stephen Farmer, London 1575

Lectvures: Or Readings, Vpon Part of the Epistle Written to the Hebrues, Edward Dering, 1576

An apologie for poetrie, Sir Philip Sidney 1595 (reprinted 1868)

Will you read Virgill? take the Earle of Surrey, Catullus? Shakespeare and Marlowes fragment, Ovid? will you haue all in all for Prose and verse? take the miracle of our age Sir Philip Sidney

The Excellence of the English Tongue, written 1595, in Remaines concering Britain, Camden 1614 GB

The Bible and Shakespeare

The King James Bible

As well as the example from St Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, there are two other instances of all in all in the KJV, with much the same meaning:
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

1 Corinthians 12:6

And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:28

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Ephesians 1:22/23

Shakespeare First Folio

These are all the instances of all in all in the First Folio. In most of these examples, I think you could also substitute everything or everything desired.
I, when the speciall thing is well obtain'd,
That is her loue: for that is all in all

The Taming of the Shrew 2:1

Heare him debate of Common-wealth Affaires;
You would say, it hath been all in all his study:

Henry V 1:1

For Suffolke, he that can doe all in all
With her, that hateth thee and hates vs all,

Henry VI (2) 1:1

Buck. What think'st thou then of Stanley? Will not hee?
Cates. Hee will doe all in all as Hastings doth

Richard III 3:1

Hor. I saw him once; he was a goodly King
Ham. He was a man, take him for all in all:
I shall not look vpon his like againe

Hamlet 1:2

I say, but marke his gesture: marry Patience,
Or I shall say y'are all in all in Spleene

Othello 4:1

Is this the Noble Moore, whom our full Senate
Call all in all sufficient?

Othello 4:1

Later examples with the meaning everything etc

Sermons to Young Women, James Fordyce, in The Gentleman's and London Magazine London, 1766

In light of subsequent events, this is rather interesting, claiming to be 'an impartial review of the present unhappy disputes between Great Britain and her colonies'

The American gazette London 1770

Don Juan, Canto II, Lord Byron 1824 (This collection Leipzig 1842)

Line on receiving a Campbell crest, Thomas Campbell 1824 (This collection Philadelphia 1826)

The philological museum, Volume 2, Julius Charles Hare, Cambridge 1832

Hawkes-eye and Yarro had neither father nor mother — they were all in all to each other;

The Lake of Canandaigua in The Lady's Book, Volume 6, Philadeplphia 1833 GB

Best and molt from old grass, but a cazaro who really understands his business, will make all alike ; and the idea here is that fabrication is all in all. A cheese of thirty pounds will be as good as one of a hundred pounds.

A general collection of ... voyages and travels, John Pinkerton, London 1809 GB

PETRE. You cannot see the Queen. Renard denied her,
Ev'n now to me.
HOWARD. Their Flemish go-between And all-in-all. I came to thank her Majesty
For freeing my friend Bagenhall from the Tower

Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson GB

2. All in all with

As we've seen, all in all with meant something like very intimate with or familiar with, or having somebody or something as a favourite. There are quite a few examples of being 'all in all with God', or something similar.

A payre of compasses for chvrch and state, Charles Herle, London 1642

A new and general biographical dictionary, William Owen, William Johnston, London 1784

The Spectator, London 1793

Beauchamp; or The wheel of fortune, James Holroyd Fielding, london 1817

Devereux: A Tale, Edward Bulwer Lytton Baron Lytton, London 1829

Tait's Edinburgh Magazine 1837

Confined within time and space, men can see beyond their limits to a point at which being and becoming are one and "all in all" with God.

The Mystical Design of Paradise Lost, Galbraith Miller Crump, New Jersey 1975 GB

3. Constructions with take.

Amongst the examples from Shakespeare was this one from Hamlet:
He was a Man, take him for all in all, I should not look upon his like again.
Although I can find no other examples of all in all with take from the seventeenth century, these constructions with take would become quite popular in the second half of the eighteenth century. Their popularity, however, seems to have been relatively short-lived as they appear to have peaked between 1850 and 1900.
This book, from 1719, includes at least three different constructions with take:
Thus terminated the fitful career of an actor- take him for all in all, " we ne'er shall look upon his like again !
His Pietro, (take it all in all,) in " Masaniello." and his Caliph of Bagdad are fine— Figaro good — Caliban admirably conceived.
The physiognomy of this curious lady was far from pleasing — she was a long, lank- jawed creature, whose appearance, taken all in all, reminded me more of the Dutch nut-cracker faces which we meet with in toyshops, than any thing else that ...

Monsieur Bossu's treatise of the epick poem, René Le Bossu, André Dacier, Fontenelle (Bernard Le Bovier, M. de), Pierre François Le Courayer, Peter Anthony Motteux, Published by J. Knapton and H. Clements, 1719 GB

This table of approximate totals of examples found at Google Books shows the develoipment of these expressions.
take it for all in all2213039562018
take him for all in all12134475665217
take her for all in all71726452112
take it all in all11113232712522
take him all in all92242612117
take her all in all2526411314
taking it for all in all3421322220
taking him for all in all1125282319
taking her for all in all5387
taking it all in all17304966
taking him all in all38482522
taking her all in all271714
taken for all in all1028391615
taken all in all123331321
This Ngram graph shows how take it all in all started the trend, but it was taken all in all that became the most common and outlasted the others.
For a couple more graphs on the relative use of different categories of all in all, see linguist Mark Liberman's post at Language Log (link below)

take ... for all in all

The Critical Review, Tobias George Smollett London 1771

The Empress Josephine, Louise Muehlbach (Clara Mundt), New York 1868.

take ... all in all

The Millennial Harbinger, Bethany 1731

The ragged school union magazine, London 1861

taking ... for all in all

The Gentleman's and London Magazine, Edward Kimber? 1765

The State of Literature during the Reign of George II, William Belsham, published in The Scots Magazine (and others) 1794

taking ... all in all

Letters from an Officer in the Guards to His Friend in England, George Edward Ayscough, London 1778

The Weekly Magazine, Or Edinburgh Amusement, Edinburgh 1779

An Historical and Political View of the Constitution and Revolutions of Geneva, Sir Francis d' Ivernois, London 1784

The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq, Sir Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, London 1786

taken for all in all

The Parliamentary Review 1833

Moby Dick, Herman Melville, New York 1851 (this edition Boston 1922)

taken all in all

This is sometimes still used today, and seems to me to be the transition to the next phase: plain all in all unadorned by take.

Ways and means, London 1782

Planting and Ornamental Gardening: A Practical Treatise, William Marshall, London 1785

Taken all in all the editors may be complimented upon their work, especially when it is considered that they have had but one third the usual time in which to do the work

The Michigan Alumnus, 1900 GB

4. Plain all in all without take

This appears to have become popular around the turn of the century, and it seems to have largely started in North America.
All in all, she was the most strikingly beautiful woman I have ever seen.

After All: A Novel, Lillian Spencer 1885 (unverifiable) GB

All in all the season just finished was a very profitable one for the cane grower

The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer 1899 GB

The special class reunions were well attended and all in all, it has been a good commencement.

The Michigan Alumnus, 1900 GB

in regard to what had taken place in Wheeling and throughout West Virginia, it was, all in all, a most remarkable drama

The Rending of Virginia: A History, Granville Davisson Hall 1902 GB (reprint 2000)

It was all in all a great season.

Michigan Ensian, Volume 7, 1903 GB

All in all the game was an exhibition of collegiate baseball at its best.

Michigan Alumnus 1904 GB

and the profits on their ventures go to swell the wealth of what is, all in all, a highly prosperous community

Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon, Arnold Wright, London 1907 GB

The houses were generally large and of stone, supplies were plentiful and cheap, and, all in all, it appears to have been an age of abundance.

Woman: in All Ages and in All Countries, Vol 6 Women of the Romance Countries, Philadelphia 1907 PG (9 instances)

A third of the land surface of this country was originally covered with what were, all in all, the most magnificent forests of the globe

The conservation of natural resources, Gifford Pinchot, Washington DC 1908 GB

However, they'd been beaten by about a century by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, who in 1789 had written:

Fragment inscribed to the Right. Hon. C.J.Fox, Robert Burns 1789 (This collection London 1823)

5. Altogether, in total

All in all I found the beaks of seventeen octopuses in them.

First on the Antarctic Continent, C.E. Borchgrevink, 1901

All in all a total of seventeen strands of training can progress at any one time, ranging from Adult platoons to Junior Leaders and Territorial Army recruits.

British national Corpus

Postscript - progression, from noun phrase to sentence adverb

Earliest instances I know of are shown in brackets
  • all things in all things (Wycliffe 1380)
    noun function

    that God be all things in all things
  • things dropped (Great Bible 1538)
    noun function

    That God may be all in all
  • take for added (Shakespeare 1603)
    transitional phase

    He was a man, take him for all in all
  • for dropped, taken replaces take (Motteux (trans) 1719)
    participle clause

    whose appearance, taken all in all, reminded me more of the Dutch nut-cracker faces
  • taken dropped
    all in all (Robert Burns 1789)
    functions as a sentence adverbial

    All in all he's a problem must puzzle the devil.

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