I would like to know if anyone has come across the expression "the Earth and his wife" and, if so, where? I would like to learn in what context it's used and, therefore, its meaning. (I believe I heard it used by Simon Winchester in his book "The Men Who United the States: .."; yet another disadvantage to listening to audiobooks is the inability to later "flip through the pages.")

My best guess is that it was used to refer to something very ancient (like, perhaps, a set of circumstances).

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    Never heard it. It's perfectly legitimate syntax, but, of course, utter nonsense outside of some context which provides a figurative framework. – Hot Licks Sep 8 '17 at 2:53

Are you sure is wasn't 'all the world and his wife'?

(hyperbolic, chiefly Britain, Australia) Everyone; a great crowd; a jumbled assortment of people • The world and his wife were at the opening – we could barely move.

Apparently, it is a mainly British expression, but googling Simon Winchester I find he is a British author resident in the USA.

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  • Yes. And incidentally, when did "Earth" (as in planet) become a synonym for "World" — oops, it's in the Lord's Prayer. I do get the impression that its growth is relatively recent or much more widespread. "All the world's a stage" "I'd give the world" etc. I suppose I should do some research myself, but this is only a comment. – David Sep 8 '17 at 11:56

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