Saturday, February 22, 2014

The origins of all of a sudden

A thread at the language forum Pain in the English discusses the expression all of a sudden and two apparent variants:
  • all of the sudden
  • all the sudden
As this Ngram graph shows, all of a sudden has long been the standard version, but apparently the second version is used to a certain extent in North America, and somebody suggested that the third is used in the North of England (although I can find no evidence of that).
This doesn't seem to be a particularly big issue, as neither Burchfield's third edition of Fowler, or the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage have anything to say about it. It's enough of an issue, though, for Bryan Garner, in Garner's Modern American Usage, to write:
all of a sudden. This is the phrase, not *all of the sudden—e.g.: “I wasn't thinking of anything, but all of the sudden [read all of a sudden] I was no longer tired.” Sam Brumbaugh, Goodbye, Goodness: A Novel 108 (2005).
*all of the sudden for all of a sudden: Stage 1
But that little seventeenth-century bump for all of the sudden, plus the discovery that all on a sudden gave all of a sudden quite a run for its money in the first half of the eighteenth century, made me interested to find out more about how this idiom began. And have some fun with the Google Books clip function at the same time.

Was it Shakespeare?

In an article at the usually rather good, they say:
'All of a sudden' sounds like the kind of poetic version of 'suddenly' that would do justice to Shakespeare. In fact, that's what Shakespeare thought too, as it was he who coined the phrase. In The Taming of the Shrew, circa 1596, we find:

Is it possible That love should of a sodaine take such hold?

But they seem to have got rather confused. The example they give is not of 'all of a sudden' but simply 'of a sudden'. Not only is there no evidence that Shakespeare coined the phrase 'all of a sudden' (there is not a single instance in the whole of the Collected Works at Project Gutenberg), it's unlikely he came up with 'of a sudden' either, as we shall see.

Prologue - sudden as a noun

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the adjective sudden (originally spelt sodaine) entered English from French in the early fourteenth century. Sudden started to be used as a noun in the 1550s, although this use is:
"now obsolete except in phrase all of a sudden first attested 1680s, also of a sudayn (1590s), upon the soden (1550s)"
As we can see, the noun sudden appears to have been first used in preposition phrases, with a preposition such as upon or of, plus a or the. According to a post at the Grammarphobia blog, it is likely that versions with the came first, but they go on to say:
At about this time, the use of “sudden” was extended to phrases that required the indefinite article “a,” like these: “upon suche a sodeyn” (1572); “upon a very great sudden” (1575); and “with such a sodaine” (1582). This may have influenced a general movement toward usages with “a” instead of “the,” a preference that eventually won out.
and they go on to quote these first appearances listed at the the Oxford English Dictionary:
  • “at the sodeyne” (1559) vs. “at a sudden” (1560)
  • “in the Sodeyne” (1559) vs. “in a sodaine” (1560)
  • “of the suddeyne” (1570) vs. “of a sodaine” (1596)
  • “upon the soden” (1558) vs. “vpon a sodayne” (1565)
I thought I'd have a poke around on Google Books to see what I could find. The earliest incidences I have found at Google Books are:
  • at the sudden, etc - 1581
  • at a sudden, etc - not found
  • in the sudden, etc - not found
  • in a sudden, etc - 1657
  • upon the sudden, etc - 1584
  • upon a sudden, etc -1560
  • on the sudden, etc - 1558
  • on a sudden, etc - 1579
  • of the sudden, etc - not found
  • of a sudden, etc - 1586

A note on spelling

My task has been made a little more difficult by the various different spellings of sudden that existed in the sixteenth century.
In the First Folio, for example, Shakespeare used at least four different spellings - when it is a noun, he usually spells it sodaine, but when it is an adjective sudden. But he also spells it sodain and suddaine at least once each.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary "The present spelling was not finally established till after 1700" . At Google Books, most of the variants had given way to sudden by the end of the sixteenth century, but sodain and soden lasted well into the eighteenth century.

A note on the 'clippings'

Where possible I've used Googe Books' useful feature of direct clippings from the texts (much simpler than messing around with screen shots). These automatically link to the relevant books by clicking on them. Where the clipping facility has not been available, I've given a link to Google Books (GB).

Sudden as a noun - sixteenth century

I've listed all the sixteenth-century instances I could find of sudden and its variations where they are being used as a noun following a preposition.

at the sudden

... and to minister some clammy matter vnto it, whence he may take aire, most fit for his functions, and not at the sudden be forced to vse any forreine ?

Positions wherin those primitive circvmstances be examined, Richard Mulcaster, 1581 GB + 2 more

The psalmes of David, by Theodore de Beze, 1590

upon the sudden

The Discouerie of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scot, 1584

A Christian Directorie Guiding Men to their Salvation 1585

Of the Russe Common Wealth, by Giles Fletcher, 1591

An Exposition Vpon the Canonicall Epistle of Saint Iames, by Richard Turnbull, 1592

A Conference about the Next Succession of the Crown of Ingland, by Robert Parsons, 1594

The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IV, by John Hayward, 1599

And they which first do flouriíh and beare sway, Vpon the sudden vaniíh cleane away

Alphonsus King of Aragon, Robert Greene, ?Walter Wilson Greg, 1599 GB

The Principal Nauigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation, by Richard Hakluyt, 1599

upon a sudden

Also, considering that he ought always to be ready to serve upon a sudden, it were meet that his band should be discharged of their watch and scourage

Calendar of state papers, foreign series, of the reign of Elizabeth, Vol 3, 1560

Holy Bible Faithfvlly Translated Into English, William Allen, 1582 (Rheims)

The Musicke beganne vppen a sodayne with a rare inuention to sound a charge with a pleasaunt concord participating togeather a sweete and thundering melodie

Hypnerotomachia, the strife of love in a dreame, Francesco Colonna, Robert Dallington - 1592 GB

on the sudden

some other trusty gentleman to repayre thither to take the muster of them on the suddeyne, and learne whither any of them wante, howe longe they have served there

Acts of the Privy Council of England 1558 Google Books

The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Compared, by Plutarch, 1579, reprinted in Shakespeare's Plutarch, 1909

Saducismus Triumphatus Or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions, by Joseph Glanvill, 1581

>Fidessa, Sonnet XL, by Barthomew Griffith, 1596, reprinted in An English Garner: Elizabethan sonnets, edited by Thomas Seccombe, Edward Arber

Venus and Adonis, by William Shakespeare, 1594

The Historie of the Troubles of Hungarie, by Martin Fumée, 1600

on a sudden

Shakespeare's Plutarch 1579 (facsimile 1909)

The historie of Cambria, by Caradoc (st, of Llancarfan.), John Price (sir.), 1584 (reprinted 1811)

Five Anonymous Plays, edited by John Stephen Farmer, 1585

... droonkennes, maskings, and whoordoms, wherin before he gloried, insomuch that his court was wholy changed vpon a sudden, as if it had been inspired from heauen.

The French Academie, Pierre de La Primaudaye, 1586 GB

Greene's "Pandosto" or "Dorastus and Fawnia", Robert Greene, La Serre (Jean-Puget, M. de), 1588, (facsimile 1907)

The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana, by Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert O. Dougan, 1596

Diana of George of Montemayor, by Jorge de Montemayor, Gaspar Gil Polo, Alonso Pérez de Montalbán, trans. Bartholomew Yong, 1598 Nine occurrences

of a sudden

A Treatise of Melancholie, Timothie Bright, 1586

Behold of a sodaine behinde me, I heard a rusling noyse, like the winde or beating of a Dragons winges

Hypnerotomachia, the strife of love in a dreame, Francesco Colonna, Robert Dallington - 1592 - Google Books

On a sudden, etc in Shakespeare

These examples are given with the spellings of the First Folio. Shakespeare seems to use on a sudden, on the sudden, upon a sudden, upon the sudden, and of the sudden at will. He's also not very consistent with his spelling: sodaine is the most common, but there are also examples of sodain, suddaine and sudden.

on the sudden

  • CLEOPATRA. He was dispos'd to mirth, but on the sodaine
        A Romane thought hath strooke him.

    Anthony and Cleopatra 1:2

  • FIRST GUARD. Oh Caesar ... On her dead Mistris tremblingly she stood,
         And on the sodaine dropt

    Anthony and Cleopatra 5:2

  • SICINIUS. On the suddaine
        I warrant him consul.

    Coriolanus 2:1

  • MOWBRAY. You wish me health in very happy season,
        For I am, on the sodaine, something ill.

    Henry IV Part 2 4:2

  • BEDFORD. 'Tis thought, Lord Talbot, when the fight began,
        Rows'd on the sudden from their drowsie Beds,,

    Henry VI Part 1 2:2

  • PATIENCE. Do you note
        How much her Grace is alter'd on the sodaine?

    Henry VIII 4:2

upon the sudden

  • FIRST SOLDIER. Following the Flyers at the very heeles,
        With them he enters: who vpon the sodaine
        Clapt to their Gates, he is himselfe alone,
        To answer all the City

    Coriolanus 1:4

on a sudden

  • CELIA. O, a good wish vpon you! you will trie in time in dispight of
        a fall: but turning these iests out of seruice, let vs talke in
        good earnest. Is it possible, on such a sodaine, you should fall
        into so strong a liking with old Sir Roulands youngest sonne?

    As You Like It 1:3

  •  NORFOLK. My Lord, we haue
        Stood heere obseruing him. Some strange Commotion
        Is in his braine: He bites his lip, and starts,
        Stops on a sodaine, lookes vpon the ground,,

    Henry VIII 3:2

  • Rom. Ile tell thee ere thou aske it me agen:
        I haue beene feasting with mine enemie,
        Where on a sudden one hath wounded me,

    Romeo and Juliet 2:3

upon a sudden

  • MRS. PAGE. ... With rounds of waxen Tapers on their heads,
        And rattles in their hands; vpon a sodaine,
        As Falstaff, she, and I, are newly met,
        Let them from forth a saw-pit rush at once

    The Merry Wives of Windsor 4:4

of a sudden

  • TRANIO.  I pray sir tel me, is it possible
        That loue should of a sodaine take such hold?

    The Taming of the Shrew 1:1

  • MARCUS. My Lord to step out of these sudden dumps,
        How comes it that the subtile Queene of Gothes,
        Is of a sodaine thus aduanc'd in Rome?

    Titus Andronicus 1:1

in the/a sudden

I found just one instance of in a sudden, and none of in the sudden

The History of the Government of France, John Dodington, London 1657

On a sudden - seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

The use of on a sudden lasted well into the eighteenth century. The poet and dramatist John Dryden (1631 - 1700) seemed rather fond of it, for example.

The Spanish Fryar, The Dramatick Works of John Dryden, Esq, publ 1718

The Maiden Queen, The Dramatick Works of John Dryden, Esq, publ 1725

"on a sudden" - Dryden at Google Books
Other eighteenth-century writers using it included Defoe, Johnson, Addison and Steele

Novels and Miscellaneous Works, Daniel Defoe, 1724 more

Memoirs of the life: writings, and amours of William Congreve Esq, by William Congreve, John Oldmixon, 1730

The Scots Magazine Vol 35, 1773 more

The Albion Queens, by John Banks, published in British Theatre: Drummer, or, The haunted house, 1792

The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, by Samuel Johnson, 1794

The Tatler, Volume 2, Richard Steele, 1794 more

The Guardian - Joseph Addison, 1797 more (Addison and Steele)

The addition of 'all'

The Online Etymology Dictionary dates 'all of a sudden' from the 1680's, and Grammarphobia is more precise, listing the first appearance as 1681, presumably taking their information from the OED. I've foound quite a few before that, but it seems to have been preceded by 'all on the sudden' and 'all on a sudden'. The earliest addition of all I've found is the on the sudden.

all on the sudden

Google Books has 10 instances of all on the sudden up to and including 1680.

Sixteenth century

Four Letters, and Certain Sonnets, by Gabriel Harvey, 1592

Seventeenth century

The Historie of Great Britain Under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans, by John Speed, 1623

The Swedish Intelligencer, by William Watts, 1633

Plague of Frogs Inflicted, Removed, Josias Shute, 1645

A Discourse Concerning Prodigies, by John Spencer, 1665

The Considerations of Drexelius Upon Eternitie, by Jeremias Drexel, 1666

Cyprianus Anglicus, by Peter Heylyn, 1668

Historical collections out of several grave protestant historians, 1674

The Present State of the Jews, by Lancelot Addison, 1676

The rule of faith, John Tillotson, Edward Stillingfleet, 1676

Eighteenth century

All on the sudden lasted into the eighteenth century. Here are just a few examples:

The works of the most reverend Dr. John Tillotson, 1718 and several more

History of His Own Time: From the restoration of King Charles II, by Gilbert Burnet, 1724 more

Miscellany Poems, by John Dryden, 1727

The Works of that Eminent Servant of Christ, Mr. John Bunyan, 1768

Nineteenth century

And there are even a couple of examples from the nineteenth century, although the second might be deliberately using the language of the period it is depicting.

Letters to Count Toreno, Jeremey Bentham and others, 1821

Whitefriars: Or, The Days of Charles the Second: An Historical Romance, by Emma Robinson, 1844

All on a sudden

Google Books has 25 instances of all on a sudden up to and including 1680. I've just listed here those from before 1660, the year of the Restoration

The History of the World, by Walter Raleigh (Sir), 1614

Purchas His Pilgrime in Five Bookes, by Samuel Purchas, 1625

Divers select sermons on severall texts, by Ier Dyke, 1640

The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, by John Milton, 1645

The works of William Bridge, 1654

The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History, by Samuel Clarke, 1654

Twenty one several books of Mr. William Bridge, by William Bridge, 1657

The History of the Evangelical Churches in the Valleys of Piemont, by Samuel Morland, 1658

Eighteenth century

There are still many examples in the eighteenth century and even into the nineteenth century

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, 1719 and many more

Annual Register, Volume 13, ed Edmund Burke, 1771

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Tobias Smollett, 1785

The trials of Arthur Thistlewood ..., by William Brodie Gurney, 1820

One of the few American examples
Miss Ophelia shut her mouth for a season. But, now that Eva was fairly and visibly prostrated, and a doctor called, Marie, all on a sudden, took a new turn

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852 GB

And here's an example in an English dialect (with an early example of dialectical 'like')
“An’t please your ladyship, Mr. Horner was sent for all on a sudden to Warwick this morning.”
His face began to work; but he felt it, and closed his lips into a resolute form.
“And he went off all on a sudden like.”

My Lady Ludlow, Elizabeth Gaskell, 1858 GB

And finally - all of a sudden

At Google Books there are at least twenty examples from before the 1680s. We have a definite from 1614, and a possible hit from 1607, but unfortunately I can't check the two from the Calendar of State Papers to see if they are really contemorary:
When they came back to Constantinople suspicion was aroused and all of a sudden, without saying a word to the Ambassador, the ministers sent the Subaggia of Constantinople to search them on the supposition that they were pirates.

Calendar of state papers and manuscripts, 1607 GB

Seven Godlie and Frvitfvll Sermons, by John Dod, Robert Cleaver, 1614

At first some of them listened to him, especially some who were discontented owing to the business of the Indies and the Levant, but afterwards, all of a sudden, they all changed their minds, owing to some hint from the king,

Calendar of state papers and manuscripts, 1621 GB

A Commentary Upon the Divine Revelation of the Apostle and Evangelist John, by David Pareus, 1644

The History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus, by David Hume, 1644

Observations upon anthroposophia theomagica ..., by Alazonomastix Philalethes, 1655

The General History and State of Europe, translated from Voltaire, 1657

Flagellum, or, the life and death of ... Cromwell, by James Heat, 1665

Samuel Pepys - Diary for 1667 (more)

A Brief Relation of the Persecution and Sufferings of the Reformed Churches of France, translated from French, 1668

The English Rogue ...Meriton Latroon, by Richard Head, Francis Kirkman, 1671

A Discourse Concerning the Idolatry Practised in the Church of Rome, by Edward Stillingfleet, 1672

A Chronicle of the Late Intestine War in the Three Kingdoms ..., by James Heath, John Phillips, 1675

A Dialogue Between a Popish Priest and an English Prostestant, by Matthew Pool, 1676

Don Carlos ..., by Cesar Vichard abbe de Saint-Real, 1676

The history of the civil wars of France, by Arrigo Caterino Davila and others, 1678

Heraclitus Christianus or The Man of Sorrow, by Heraclitus Christianus, translation published in 1677 (but translated 1556)

The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan, 1678 (facsimile)

A Relation of the Barbarous and Bloody Massacre ..., by Gilbert Burnet 1678

The life of the renowned Peter d'Aubusson, by Dominique Bouhours, 1679

The Tryals of Sir George Wakeman, 1679

A Discourse Concerning The Operations Of The Holy Spirit, by William Clagett, 1680

Minor variation - all of the sudden

There only appears to be one instance of all the sudden up to 1680, and still only nine up to the end of the seventeenth century, with a further eleven each for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Use picks up considerably towards the end of the twentieth century, but there seems to be only one instance before 1980 (see Epilogue).

The commun interest of king and people, by John Nalson, 1678

The History of the Crusade, by Louis Maimbourg, 1685

The history of the life and actions of ... Turenne, by Gatien Courtilz de Sandras, trans Ferrand Spence, 1686

A relation of the death of the primitive persecutors, Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, (trans Gilbert Burnet) 1687

The life of Carolus Gustavus of Bavaria, by Jean Le Royer Prade, 1688

A New History of Ecclesiastical Writers, by Louis Ellies Du Pin, William Wotton, 1693

Four discourses delivered to the clergy of the diocess of Sarum, by Gilbert Burnet, 1694

The Antiquities of Palmyra, by Abednego Seller, 1696

A Letter, by John Somers (baron), 1697

The origins of versions preceded by 'all'

Earliest instance
at Google Books
up to 16801680-1700up to 1700
all on the sudden1592101424
all on a sudden1614253257
all of the sudden1678189
all of a sudden1614 (1607?)226082


The use of sudden as a noun started in the second half of the sixteenth century, in expressions like 'on the/a sudden', 'upon the/a sudden' and 'of a sudden'.
Somewhere near the beginning of the seventeenth century, people started to add 'all', but the now standard 'all of a sudden' reaklly took off after 1680 and had established itself as the dominant version by about 1750. Nevertheless, '(all) on a sudden' also remained popular well into the eighteenth century.

Epilogue - All of the sudden and All the sudden in modern times

There seems to have been a minor rise in the use of these two expressions round the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This seems to have been mainly an American phenomenon: there are no examples of these two expressions at the British Ntional Corpus.

All of the sudden

Most examples from the nineteenth century (eleven at Google Books) were simply quoting people like Dryden and Burnet from the eighteenth century. But this version does seem to have enjoyed a bit of a revival in the late twentieth century, with the first entry being from 1972:
They could not all of the sudden show themselves as demolishers of respectable institutions

Protest and Resistance in Angola and Brazil, by Ronald H. Chilcote - 1972

One writer (on English) uses both all of the sudden and all of a sudden on the same page.
Then, all of the sudden, there was another big tidal wave.
All of a sudden the little fleas saw a mean-looking dog named Butch.

Practical Ideas for Teaching Writing as a Process, Carol B Olson, 1996

This revival has been even more marked in this century, with about 370 verifiable instances at Google Books (compared with less than thirty for the twentieth century). Many are from self-published books or are quotes or dailogue. Here are a couple of examples of it being used 'straight':
My dad was wondering where I was, when all of the sudden he heard the sound of an arrow. The next thing he saw was an arrow sticking out of the bull in the ten-zone.

Horned Game, by Mark B. Steffen, from Legendary Hunts: Short Stories from the Boone and Crocket Awards, 2006

Like a flash flood, all of the sudden the crowd, with all of their frustration, all of their anger, and their desire to punish, immediately broke through the defenses and stormed the jail.

Martyr To Freedom: The Life and Death of Captain Daniel Drayton, Zachary Martin - 2011

All the sudden

This seems to a fairly recent phenomenon, with the earliest examples I've been able to find coming from the 1980s. Many of these are from self-published authors, but there are one or two from better-known writers as well.
sooner or later he'd stray away or another one would need me all the sudden and that'd be the worst time

John Edgar Wideman [Wikipedia] - Sent for You Yesterday, 1983 more

Stop drinking for a few months and all the sudden you find out how good beer smells

Brady Udall [Wikipedia] - Letting Loose the Hounds, 1998

I decided to stay on my feet. It was pitch dark. I was walking a little bit, and all the sudden I heard something behind me ...

Patrick K O'Donnell [Wikipedia] - Into the Rising Sun, 2010 (accounts from soldiers) more

"All the sudden Piel shows up in New York and he's doing girls lying down ready to throw up," recalled Alex Chatelam.

Stephen Fried [Wikipedia] Thing of Beauty, 2011



Unknown said...

You wrote:

I thought I'd have a poke around on Google Books to see what I could find. The earliest incidences I have found at Google Books are:

at the sudden, etc - 1581
at the sudden, etc - not found
upon the sudden, etc - 1584
upon a sudden, etc -1560
on the sudden, etc - 1558
on a sudden, etc - 1579
of a sudden, etc - not found
of a sudden, etc - 1586

Something seems amiss there. Did you mean this, instead?

at the sudden, etc - 1581
at a sudden, etc - not found
upon the sudden, etc - 1584
upon a sudden, etc -1560
on the sudden, etc - 1558
on a sudden, etc - 1579
of the sudden, etc - not found
of a sudden, etc - 1586

Warsaw Will said...

Well spotted. Yes, I certainly did, and will change it. Thanks.

novak dj said...

Am here to testify what this great spell caster done for me. i never believe in spell casting, until when i was was tempted to try it. i and my wife have been having a lot of problem living together, she will always not make me happy because she have fallen in love with another man outside our relationship, i tried my best to make sure that my wife leave this woman but the more i talk to her the more she makes me fell sad, so my marriage is now leading to divorce because she no longer gives me attention. so with all this pain and agony, i decided to contact this spell caster to see if things can work out between me and my wife again. this spell caster who was a man told me that my wife is really under a great spell that she have been charm by some magic, so he told me that he was going to make all things normal back. he did the spell on my wife and after 5 days my wife changed completely she even apologize with the way she treated me that she was not her self, i really thank this man his name is Dr ose he have bring back my wife back to me i want you all to contact him who are having any problem related to marriage issue and relationship problem he will solve it for you. his email is  he is a man and his  great. wish you good time.
He cast spells for different purposes like
(1) If you want your ex back.
(2) if you always have bad dream
(3) You want to be promoted in your office.
(4) You want women/men to run after you.
(5) If you want a child.
(6) You want to be rich.
(7) You want to tie your husband/wife to be yours forever.
(8) If you need financial assistance.
(10) is the only answer to that your problem of winning the lottery

Contact him today on or whatsapp him on +2348136482342.