For/To all intents and purposes

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jan 10 21:35:32 UTC 2007

On Jan 10, 2007, at 1:21 AM, Benjamin Barrett wrote:

> I sent in a dictionary correction for this item and was told that the
> expression is "to all intents and purposes". The citation given me as
> evidence is
> 27_or_%27all_intense_purposes%27.
> To me, "for" sounds much better" and I don't see a reason to cite
> one or
> the other as being correct (and Google gives over a million hits
> for each).

i'd agree with that.  they both sound fine to me.  but there's a
school of thought that maintains that when there are two variants
that aren't differentiated in meaning or stylistic level, one must be
correct and the other incorrect.  one way of deciding which is which
is to favor the older variant.

> Another point in my favor is the citation actually claims "to" is
> correct" but then gives "for" in its example.
> Most of the citation:
> -----
> The correct phrase is "TO all intents and purposes" which dates
> back to
> the 1500s and originated in English law, where it was to all intents,
> constructions, and purposes. The phrase is generally used to
> compare two
> unlike acts or deeds, i.e., "She went to his room and drank with him,
> which he viewed - for all intents and purposes - as consent to sex."

this is just delicious.  a classic example of the difficulty people
have in tacitly following rules they have explicitly formulated.

> From being misheard and repeated, people also say "FOR all intents and
> purposes" but that is a product of the original phrase being misheard
> and repeated.

i get the "repeated" part: once the variant is out there, it can
serve as a model for other speakers.  but the "misheard" part strikes
me as preposterous.  why would "to" be misheard as "for"?

this is much more likely to have originated as a reshaping in the
direction of greater sensicality -- a kind of prepositional
eggcorning.  the meaning of "intents" here is obscure (which is why
"intents and" so often gets turned into "intensive"), but insofar as
you can understand it as something close to "intentions", then the
preposition "to" is odd: ??"This is to all intentions a bad idea".
"for" is a (slight) improvement.  but things are much clearer with
"purposes": "to all purposes" is bizarre, while "for all purposes"
makes some real sense.


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