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"All the world and his wife were at the ball." This is a sentence I found in a text book. Does "all the world" simply means "everybody"? China is experiencing a great change, all the world is looking at it, because it is also consequential for them (self-made). In the second sentence, is "people all around the world" better than "all the world"? I tend to think that "all the world" is better than people all around the world, because the latter only refers to individuals ,whereas the former may mean Brookings Institute or the Pentagon.

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closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, Mari-Lou A, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, TrevorD Sep 16 '13 at 0:07

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As you can see from this NGram, the word all doesn't normally occur in the set phrase the world and his wife. Any supposed distinction between all the world and people all around the world is entirely subjective, and therefore Off Topic, in my opinion. – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 at 1:13
This question appears to be off-topic because it is about subjective interpretations – FumbleFingers Sep 15 '13 at 1:14

All the world and is his wife is idiomatic, because clearly the world cannot have a wife, and the world cannot go to a ball. It is done for emphasis. You might have expected certain people to be at the ball, perhaps this family, perhaps that family, but in fact ALL of them had attended, and maybe others you hadn't even thought of.

In your second sentence you could use either expression. The Brookings Institute and the Pentagon are made up of people and it is they who are doing the watching.

A better way to write it might be:

China is experiencing a great change: all the world is watching because it will have consequences for everyone.

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Everyone and then some. It is inherently contradictory because the first term encompasses the second, but the structure suggest infinity plus one. A lot. – bib Sep 15 '13 at 1:15

Examples of idiomatic hyperbole

  • Everybody/everyone
  • Nobody
  • All the world / the whole world
  • All the gold in the world

Examples of usage:

Everybody loves Raymond.

Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded. (somewhat Yogi Berra)

Nobody eats ice-cream like you - dripping all over the place.

All the gold in the world would not buy my allegiance.

All the world was focused on the tightrope walker, who deftly inched his way across the Niagara Falls.


  1. an obvious and intentional exaggeration.
  2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “She’s as big as a house.” Cf. litotes. — hyperbolic, adj.
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