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Many of you have probably heard the phrase "to no avail", as in "I tried to talk them out of it to no avail." (Which means I tried to talk them out of something but failed to do so).

However, I was wondering if the opposite of "to no avail" existed. Something like such:

I took advantage of the ignorant to all avail

Thus implying I took advantage of the ignorant in all extent possible. Is this correct, or would you phrase it differently?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You should rephrase it. It doesn’t mean “to all effect” as you’ve written, but rather “to all help”.

The problem is that the noun avail, deriving from the verb to avail and meaning “Beneficial effect; advantage, benefit, profit.” is now obsolete. People don’t know what it means in English except when used in set phrases like:

  • 4 of avail: of advantage or assistance in accomplishing a purpose, effective, effectual. of no avail, without avail: ineffectual. to little avail: with little effect, ineffectually, to little purpose.

At least, that’s what the OED says. Gowers Fowler also has some choice words to say about people misusing avail as a verb on page 43, and explains how available once meant that can avail.

I don’t think people know what avail really means anymore, so you shouldn’t use it outside these fossilized phrases.

That said, true masters of the English language have certainly used it to good effect in the last century. J.R.R. Tolkien uses it 9 times in The Lord of the Rings, a work particularly well-known for the authenticity of its olden-style language. Tolkien never runs afoul of Fowler’s complaints, either. The most memorable of those 9 instances is probably:

The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.

Here’s an example of one of his noun uses:

Yet I could wish, were it of any avail, that the One Ring had never been wrought, or had remained for ever lost.

The original poster’s “to all avail” really makes no sense at all, because avail doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. But most people don’t know that, so best to steer clear.

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+1 Thanks for your help. I begin to understand why my original phrase was wrong! –  JCOC611 Jul 30 '12 at 1:26

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