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I grew up in the Northeastern US where the use of the phrase "all set" to mean "ready" or "finished" is common.

An example would be, "Are you all set with that?" (perhaps while pointing to an unfinished meal)

Another example would be, "Are we all set?" (as in "Are we ready to go?")

I never gave it a second thought until a friend from California told me that the usage of "all set" really threw him off when he moved to the Northeast. He had never heard that usage before ... hence my curiosity.

Is the use of "all set" exclusive to certain regions in the US? Is it used at all in Great Britain?

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7 Answers 7

Yes it is used in the UK. As an example, the headline to this story (first one that came up in Google)Phil Taylor all set for Wales showdown.

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That's a rather different usage - it means that someone is ready for an event. It is never (as far as we can say that about dialects) used in the UK to mean that something is completed, or finished-with. – Marcin Apr 17 '11 at 19:19
@Marcin But @gbutters did include "ready" as one of the meanings in a particular context, so I'd say yes the UK usage quoted it valid. – Ankur Banerjee Apr 17 '11 at 20:04
@Ankur Bannerjee: It is a different sense of "ready", and in England it is only used transitively; by contrast in the US it is used much less in this transitive sense than it is in England. In the US it is generally used as an absolute. – Marcin Apr 17 '11 at 20:09
I was surprised to hear Ron Weasley come out with '... I'm all set' in the train scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. 'Anything from the trolly, dears?' Ron (holding up his sandwiches): 'No thanks, I'm all set'. Meaning 'I'm fully prepared / equipped / provisioned // not in need of ...', and not followed by a for-phrase or to-infinitive. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 20 at 22:47

I spent some time in Western Massachusetts and I heard this from my mechanic to gas station cashiers whenever I hand out money and they put the amount in or that the car is fixed and I'm all set, all prepared and ready to go. They would say "You're all set!".

I'm thinking it's more of a New England thing.

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In my experience the phrase not used in the same way in English outside the US (UK, South Africa, Australia, India). In these other countries it is only used in the sense of 'ready' (sometimes with 'for' added on the end - "Are you all set for your flight tomorrow ?"). I never encountered it being used in the sense of 'finished' until I came to the US. I'd be interested to know the origins of the American use.

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You're all set is frequently used in the US to indicate the job is finished and you can "resume your regular behavior" before the inconvenience of a broken down car/a flat tire/a broken water heater/a snow covered driveway/whatever caused a break in your routine. It's short for you're all set to go now. So it's not that different. I've heard it all over the eastern US including Tennessee. – medica Oct 21 '14 at 3:31

I have grown up and lived most of my life in the US northeast, in particular New England, more specifically Massachusetts. The phrase "all set" has many meanings which can vary based upon the context. The subtleties are easily lost on most folks, many of whom may be seeing it as a written, not spoken, expression.

It can very well mean you are "ready" (occasionally, one may simply use the word "set" alone):

  • for an upcoming event

  • to depart or get going

It also can mean "finished" or "completed":

  • with the dinner plate, the server can clear it now that you are not using it

  • the server may offer coffee or dessert but you may want to just get the check and leave

  • with the tool, you can borrow it without hindering my progress

It can mean "not requiring assistance" or "not requiring (further) merchandise":

  • just browsing/loitering and not assistance from salesperson/librarian/security/other

  • after regaining composure, perhaps after an accident, fall, loss of temper

It can mean "the matter is resolved":

  • shopkeeper: "You are all set." The transaction is complete, the customer can go.

  • restaurant patron: "This (check) is all set." The money offered for the check will pay in full and the wait staff can keep the change as gratuity, no change required.

  • repair person: "It's all set now." The item is repaired. (The customer should ask for clarification to make sure that what was requested has been provided.)

As shown above, the many ambiguities for this catch-all phrase depend upon who is speaking and in what circumstance. It is my opinion that because the phrase can be vague, it keeps people communicating. Overly precise language can stifle interaction by crowding out occasion for humorous misunderstanding, actual two-way dialogues where questions and answers are exchanged, and the ability to see anther's point of view by forcing oneself to perceive a situation from a perspective other than their own.

I guess I am all set with this topic.

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Hello, Impr8r. A comprehensive answer. We usually like links to supporting documentation on ELU, but I think that would be unreasonable to expect with this question. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 21 at 1:06

Both the NOAD and the OED reports that set, as adjective, can mean "ready, prepared, or likely to do something."

“All set for tonight?” he asked.
Water costs look set to increase.

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This isn't really responsive to the question. It's not "Is this a usage which exists?", it's "Where does this usage exist?" – Marcin Aug 20 '14 at 17:56

Nope, it's not used in the UK. I've never heard it in California either.

What I find confusing about the use of the term is that in the US Northeast no-one seems to understand any of the ways I would normally express the same concept.

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What are the ways you would express the same concept? – gbutters Apr 17 '11 at 18:47
Curious. I grew up in Colorado, and I'm familiar with this expression and use it myself. Perhaps there's a dialectal line somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, west of which people no longer use the idiom. Or perhaps I'm just weird. – JSBձոգչ Apr 17 '11 at 18:50
"I'm good", "I'm done", "I'm fine" would probably be the most usual way. – Marcin Apr 17 '11 at 19:18
I've heard this widely used in London, and frequently use the phrase myself. Perhaps it isn't used in your part of the UK? We use it mostly to indicate that everyone is ready, or more commonly to ask if everyone is ready ("All set?"), so "I'm done" wouldn't carry quite the same connotations. – Lunivore Apr 18 '11 at 16:07
@Lunivore: I live in London. As noted below in my comment to Ankur Bannerjee, it's actually quite a different usage. I almost never hear anyone say it. – Marcin Apr 18 '11 at 16:28

I speculate that it came in use as a phrase from machinists in the North East. After setting up a machine for a production run they would say they were "all set", that is all done and all okay.

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Do you have any evidence to back up this speculation? – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 30 '14 at 16:12

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