"all" = very; quite

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Oct 18 17:23:25 UTC 2005

Now I've got it *all* figured out. The OED definition fails to distinguish between two distinguishable meanings of "all."

Cf. these exx.:

1. When we saw her, sire, she was all demoniac.

2. When we saw her, dude, she was all demoniac.

In (1), the meaning of demoniac is - presumably - literal: the lady in Caxton, cited by Ben and OED, is possessed by a demon. She is *utterly and wholly* possessed.  The demon controls her thoroughly.

In (2), however, "demoniac" means - presumably (in our hyperbolic modern world) - "behaving as though demoniac; wild; frantic."  She is *extremely or very* wild or frantic. In fact, in current usage, she might be merely "rather" wild or frantic. Her emotions are the focus, not her entire capacities as a human being.

Admittedly much of the discord between (1) and (2) stems from the contrast between formal "lady" and less formal; "dude," but I chose them to point up the distinct nuances of the strong and weak senses of "demoniac."  Just as the strong sense is unlikely to be intended in (2) because of its offhand character, the strong sense of "all" is equally unlikely.

If the weasel in my original example looks "all worried," he doesn't look *utterly or wholly" worried. he looks *very or extremely* worried.  The adverbs "utterly" and "wholly" are not quite idiomatic here.  They refer to completeness rather than mere intensity.


3. I'm all worn out.     = utterly; wholly

4. I'm all excited.       = extremely; rather

In (3), my capacity to continue is entirely used up.  In (4), my emotion has reached a higher than usual pitch.

My suspicion is that early exx. of adv. "all" in such contexts overwhelmingly emphasize *utterness and completeness,* while more modern exx. are about equally likely to emphasize  *intensity.*

All of this may be hairsplitting at its worst, and my argument may be *all* (utterly and wholly) wrong, but if so I won't get *all* (extremely or rather) upset about it, still less *all* [ambiguous
here because of the vivid physical connotations of the following idiom] bent out of shape.

J  "They Used to Say I Was Mad But Now They Know I'm Insane"  L

Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: "all" = very; quite

I quite like the 1483 quote from Caxton in the OED entry for "all":

1483 CAXTON G. de la Tour Cvij, The lady wente oute of her wytte
and was al demonyak.

On Mon, 17 Oct 2005 16:19:16 -0700, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

>So new that those exx. don't even sound like English to me.
>But never mind that. Some syntactic subtlety, honored by the ear if not
the intellect, still must be going undescribed, as a full-text search of
Eighteenth Century Collections Online, involving (it says here) 150,000
books of the age, reveals not a solitary ex. of "look/ looks/ looked/
looking all worried."
>The same goes for the test phrases "look [etc.] all happy,"
"...miserable," "...worn out," "...cheerful." and "...surprised."
>Surely this isn't just the result of a search-engine problem ? A search
for "seemed all surprised" turned up one ex., but since it refers to an
entire audience it is scarcely diagnostic:
>1788 Jakob von Staehlin _Original Anecdotes of Peter the Great_ (London:
J. Murray, J. Sewell, & W. Creech) 163 : But the execution of the
different pieces of music was so imperfect, so wretched, and there was so
little harmony, that the guests...seemed all surprised, while the
mistress of the house appeared not to perceive it.
>"Arnold M. Zwicky" wrote:
>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender: American Dialect Society
>Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
>Subject: Re: "all" = very; quite
>On Oct 16, 2005, at 7:26 PM, Jon Lighter wrote:
>> Maybe one could force-fit this adverbial "all" into OED def. 2, but
>> I doubt it. It's absurdly common in speech, and has been for decades.
>> 1993 http://groups.google.com/group/rec.music.folk/
>> browse_frm/thread/edb973b564500555/ed7aeb5f7bef3ebf?
>> lnk=st&q=YGBSM&rnum=675#ed7aeb5f7bef3ebf (Feb. 11) : Does anyone
>> know where I can find a "Wild Weasel" patch that has the little
>> weasel looking all worried and the inscription of "You Gotta Be
>> Shitting Me" on it.
>according to the local authorities, isa buchstaller and elizabeth
>traugott (who gave a paper on this topic at the recent SHEL
>conference), intensifier "all" with participles and AdjPs has been
>around since OE. then with PPs (12th century) and NPs (17th
>century). what *is* genuinely recent is intensifier "all" with
>tensed verbs:
>She all walks in.
>Yeah I all screamed when we hit the skunk...

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