English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I couldn't get much on this phrase. It is a weird one I know but I just can't stand not knowing it. How did the current use of "at all" come into being?

Take a look at this:

"in any way," mid-14c., originally used only affirmatively (as in I Sam. XX:6 in KJV: "If thy father at all misse me"); now it is overwhelmingly used only in the negative or in interrogatory expressions, or in literary attempts at Irish dialect.

Can this be trusted?

share|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think you may trust this. It is drawn from OED 1, 9.b., where you may see representative citations going back to ‘c 1350’.

share|improve this answer
@KristinaLopez Look at the very last line of the first column on the left, (9.) b. At all, et. seq. – StoneyB Jun 11 '14 at 18:04
Got it! Thanks for pointing it out! – Kristina Lopez Jun 11 '14 at 19:31

If you are thinking of the same use of "...at all" as I am, it does not match what's in the Etymology.com listing...at all.

It seems to be a popular expression in current US TV shows with my first recollection coming from an episode of "The Nanny", a US TV Sitcom 1993-1999):

Fran (to C.C.): "Question. When they shot Bambi's mother, did you find that a sad moment... at all?"

And to hear it, go to 5:56 of this YouTube video of the episode (Season 1, episode 7 "Imaginary Friends"): http://youtu.be/8jHgbimgFBA

share|improve this answer
In what way does in any way not suit your quotation? – StoneyB Jun 11 '14 at 18:07
@StoneyB, it fits but IMO falls short of the (comedic? dramatic?) impact of "...at all" versus "in any way". – Kristina Lopez Jun 11 '14 at 19:34
Professional pride obliges me to protest that what a first-rate writer and a first-rate actor can make of an ordinary phrase can hardly be said to constitute "current use"! :) – StoneyB Jun 11 '14 at 19:42
@StoneyB, by "current use" I mean that others have adapted the peculiar affected way of saying "...at all", again, I believe for comedic effect, though the meaning is undisputedly in any way. It's not the meaning that makes it "a thing", it's the particular phrase spoken a particular way. – Kristina Lopez Jun 11 '14 at 21:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.