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I was writing, and this happened:

It was a beautiful afternoon in mid-autumn, all chill air and dazzling sunlight.

Is X, all Y considered archaic? I use this construction occasionally, but it seems slightly purple if not actually downright old-fashioned. Then again, the more I speak with people from other areas, the more I realise why people call New England speech quaint!

For some reason I associate this usage of all with the use of full as an adverb meaning fully or the embodiment of; to me, X, all Y implies X is wholly given to or characterised by Y.

Chaucer provides the first example that comes to mind of the use of full I've mentioned:

Bifel that in that sesoun, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
...

That is, with full(y) devout heart/spirit. Thoughts?

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Isn't it just full, devout courage rather than fully devout courage? –  Kosmonaut Oct 15 '10 at 20:23
    
@Rhodri: Right you are, though "corage" refers broadly to heart, temper, or inclination, and didn't resolve into its near-exclusive modern meaning of "bravery" until rather later on. –  Jon Purdy Oct 18 '10 at 18:56
    
In "all chill air and dazzling sunlight", I'd read all as completely. –  Dan D. Mar 19 '12 at 4:56
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I wouldn't class it as archaic; it's uncommon, to be sure, but still sometimes used. Applying purple to your prose is not always a bad thing, especially if you're trying to set a mood for a scene; the key is to use such descriptions in moderation and to blend them smoothly into the surrounding narrative.

Unless you're writing deliberate homage to '30s pulps, in which case your prose should go between purple and ultraviole(n)t.

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I think it's misleading to classify this use of "all" as "uncommon" just because "chill air and dazzling sunlight" is slightly poetic phrasing that wouldn't appear in everyday speech. –  FumbleFingers Mar 19 '12 at 3:22
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I don't think there's anything at all archaic, or even uncommon, in OP's use of the word "all". Here, for example, are thousands of written instances of it was all sunshine (and a few hundred for it was all doom and gloom, in the interests of balance). An ever more common usage which shows no sign of falling into disuse is he was all smiles.

Nor is there anything unusual about the fact that OP doesn't explicitly repeat the implicit [it was] in the second clause - this is perfectly normal in both speech and writing.

At the level of sentence structure, there's nothing at all remarkable about OP's example. About all one can say is that "chill air" and "dazzling sunlight" are both very slightly "flowery" and "poetic" - but it's obviously OP's intention to write an evocative descriptive passage, so that's fine.

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It's not a particularly common phrasing when used as a descriptive, which might give it the air of archaism, and you particular example is somewhat poetic, adding to that nuance. It sounds like a poetic elision of 'the afternoon was all...' where 'all' is an adverb, modifying the predicate.

But the adverbial form of 'all' is not at all archaic or formal. Looking at its very long OED entry, many uses are very common nowadays. One particular phenomenon is very informal, namely its use to introduce reported speech:

She was all "What's up?" and I was all "nuh unh" and then he was like facepalm, so I bugged out.

'all' acts like a synonym of the ubiquitous 'like' (which is a synonym of the more formal 'said').

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Thanks for the reference. As an aside, be like isn’t an outright synonym of say. The former can also take actions (“He was like facepalm.”), interjections (“I was like ‘ugh’.”), and approximate or paraphrased quotations, which say cannot. –  Jon Purdy Mar 19 '12 at 17:21
    
@JonPurdy: I don't take 'synonym' to mean 'exact; replacement in all possible instances' (because really there are no exact synonyms). But yes, 'say' really expects a direct quote, and 'like' and 'all' can take paraphrases or even descriptions as long as they are quote-like. –  Mitch Mar 19 '12 at 17:34
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