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?

2 Answers 2


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’.

  • @KristinaLopez Look at the very last line of the first column on the left, (9.) b. At all, et. seq. Jun 11, 2014 at 18:04

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

  • 1
    In what way does in any way not suit your quotation? Jun 11, 2014 at 18:07
  • @StoneyB, it fits but IMO falls short of the (comedic? dramatic?) impact of "...at all" versus "in any way". Jun 11, 2014 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"! :) Jun 11, 2014 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. Jun 11, 2014 at 21:12

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