Most all people don't know proper English, amirite?
July 2, 2007 1:32 PM   Subscribe

"Most all" - it is wrong. Right?

So I've seen "most all" (instead of "almost all") around for a while now, generally in everydaylanguage and online. I've always assumed it is incorrect English - and I still think it is.

But I have seen it creep up a few times in contexts where you would not expect incorrect English (the printed press for instance) so I am now wondering - has it become accepted incorrect English? Or am I in fact very mistaken and it is correct? (but it does not make sense!! it's either all or most - it can't be both!)
posted by ClarissaWAM to Writing & Language (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Most all" would probably not be preferred usage in most edited publications, but it is an old colloquialism, perhaps somewhat regional, and not unheard of.
posted by Miko at 1:34 PM on July 2, 2007


it's redundant

i think most implies that you're referring to the whole

unless you say "most of the people on that team" or "most of the cars"

but most all is just plain silly

regardless, it's usually better to say many, unless you know for sure that it is most
posted by Salvatorparadise at 1:38 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's "'most all" where the apostrophe is the replaced "al-" from "almost', no?
posted by mkb at 1:48 PM on July 2, 2007


"The adverb most, a shortened form of almost, is far from being either a recent development or an Americanism. It goes back to the 16th century in England, where it is now principally a dialect form. In American English it occurs before such pronouns as all, anyone, anybody, everyone, and everybody; the adjectives all, any, and every; and adverbs like anywhere and everywhere: Most everyone around here is related to everyone else. You can find that plant most anywhere. This use of most is often objected to, but it is common in the informal speech of educated persons. It is less common in edited writing except in representations of speech."
posted by box at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2007


What miko and box said. It is not wrong, but some people think it is, so you need to consider your audience.

it's redundant


You clearly have not understood the idiom ("most" = "almost"), but I'll take the opportunity to address the point anyway, because it comes up a lot: yes, there are a lot of redundancies in all (natural) languages. This is a feature, not a bug.

It's "'most all" where the apostrophe is the replaced "al-" from "almost', no?


No.
posted by languagehat at 1:59 PM on July 2, 2007


it's a common error, but still, an error.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:04 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the OED has that usage going back to 1590, so it's not new. As for "correct", well...

Here's an interesting citation, at least, from the diary of George Washington in 1775: "As the Tassels of most all the Corn..was entirely dry."
posted by mr_roboto at 2:05 PM on July 2, 2007


Eliminate it from your writing. Do not criticize others for using it.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:12 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow. Fascinating. I really did not know of most = almost and was sure I'd only seen this usage come up fairly recently.

Thanks all!
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:15 PM on July 2, 2007


languagehat,

good writing is simple and to the point, which means remove most all redundancies

no, i mean "all redundancies"
posted by Salvatorparadise at 2:16 PM on July 2, 2007


You're only going to find this phrase in American English. It doesn't occur in British English, and I'm fairly sure it doesn't occur in Australian or Canadian English.

So from the standpoint of the Queen's English, it's a slightly vulgar Americanism.
posted by humblepigeon at 2:19 PM on July 2, 2007


humblepigeon writes "It doesn't occur in British English, and I'm fairly sure it doesn't occur in Australian or Canadian English. "

It occurs in the writing of both Kipling and Thackeray.

For whatever that's worth.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:24 PM on July 2, 2007


It doesn't occur in British English

A Black British co-worker of mine uses it a lot - another random data point.
posted by paduasoy at 2:36 PM on July 2, 2007


It doesn't occur in British English, and I'm fairly sure it doesn't occur in Australian or Canadian English.

I've never heard it here in Australia.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:59 PM on July 2, 2007


Salvatorparadise: Having a bit of redundancy can make what you say or write easier to understand. This is why having case, tense, and gender agreement in language is not stupid, wrong, and awful, but sometimes useful. It lets you know when you misread or misinterpreted something, and often will be enough that you can figure out what you got wrong and fix it without having to go back and start over.

Good writing is not the ability to communicate using as few letters or words or phones as possible - if I have to go back and reread something to figure it out, that's worse than it being twice as long.

Anyway, "most all" does not mean the same thing as "all" so it's not redundant.
posted by aubilenon at 3:26 PM on July 2, 2007


Salvatoreparadise: good writing is simple and to the point, which means remove most all redundancies. no, i mean "all redundancies"

But "most all redundancies" doesn't mean "all redundancies." It means "almost all redundancies." (Do you think that "almost all" is redundant too?)
posted by mbrubeck at 3:30 PM on July 2, 2007


People understand it. It's not incorrect, then, unless it conveys the wrong register for your audience--and then it would be socially incorrect.

Unless you're a prescriptivist. In which case, you probably think the internet/young people/whatever is ruining "proper" English.
posted by rhoticity at 4:03 PM on July 2, 2007


There is no 'correct English.' There is only 'accepted usage.' 'Quite a few' to mean 'a lot' doesn't make much sense either, but it's accepted and understood.
posted by frobozz at 4:28 PM on July 2, 2007


I would excise this from any formal writing, but it is certainly a colloquialism.

Strunk addressed it in the 1918 Elements of Style:
Most. Not to be used for almost.

Most everybody .... Almost everybody
Most all the time ... Almost all the time


as does Ambrose Bierce in Write it Right

But it appears several times in, for example, Huckleberry Finn, obviously intended as a marker of Huck's unschooled grammar. In a handful of printed sources it does appear with a leading apostrophe to represent the elided "al-", but usually not.

I could find numerous examples, but I suspect that in general they will be intended to represent unsophisticated speech patterns, whether for positive or negative associations.

You're only going to find this phrase in American English. It doesn't occur in British English, and I'm fairly sure it doesn't occur in Australian or Canadian English.

Actually, I found it in Punch and the London Illustrated Gazette. It might be an affectation in both, but this is probably the same process that has led Elizabethan English pronunciation and grammar to have its most faithful adherents in Appalachia.
posted by dhartung at 6:44 PM on July 2, 2007


Interesting. I teach English here in Japan, and common mistake students make--even the high level ones--goes like this:

"Almost people at the party were drunk"
instead of
"Most people at the party were drunk".

I never knew that "most" was a shortened version of "almost"...so how the hell do the Japanese know that?? Is this another British English thing? (can you tell I'm from the U.S.?)
posted by zardoz at 6:13 AM on July 3, 2007


It doesn't occur in British English

As others have pointed out, this is completely wrong, and yet humblepigeon felt free to say it with confidence and without checking because he just knew it was true. I point this out not to mock humblepigeon but because it's a standard way for people to discuss language, and this is why I tend to get testy when linguistic topics come up. People who wouldn't dream of saying "The spleen is right here, on the left of the heart!" when they'd never taken an anatomy class feel quite comfortable making shit up about language—and then resenting it when they're corrected. The word "descriptivist" is functionally equivalent to "member of the reality-based community"; it always makes me shake my head to see otherwise sensible people use it as an insult.

good writing is simple and to the point


So Shakespeare isn't good writing? Faulkner isn't good writing? Sorry, no cigar. Good writing cannot be pinned down by simple-minded slogans, no matter what that idiot Strunk said back in the days when cars got forty rods to the hogshead.
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on July 3, 2007


Some of you who think that this phrase does not occur in UK English or Australian will now suddenly hear it most everywhere, and wonder how this "phenomenon" occurred. I'll cut to the chase and let you know right now that the answer to your future AskMe is "confirmation bias."
posted by desuetude at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2007


- It doesn't occur in British English

As others have pointed out, this is completely wrong, and yet humblepigeon felt free to say it with confidence


Here's where my confidence comes from.

Firstly, I'm British, which it seems you're not. Secondly, for the past ten years, I've worked as a journalist on a variety of national publications here in Britain. I've also had two books published. In addition to writing and editing, I've worked and been trained in magazine production (what Americans call copy editing, but we call sub-editing).

I work at the business-end of British English. I'm no academic, however.

But I feel I can say this with some qualification: Most people in Britain, who speak British English, do not use the phrase "most all". Some people might say it, perhaps if their background is from a non-mainstream culture (like the black co-worker somebody mentioned, whose parents might have come from the Carribean). Or they might be using American English, either deliberately or because they've seen too much bloody Dawson's Creek, in which case they'll use it once or twice before being made to feel very self-conscious.

It also might appear in poetry, especially older poetry. It probably is older British English. But in contemporary British English, nobody says "most all". I've never heard it in conversation, or read it in contemporary British English publications. Never, ever. If somebody wants to provide proof, perhaps a noted contemporary and strictly British writer using it in recent times, then I'll back down and apologise. But I think you'll struggle.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:28 PM on July 3, 2007


Irish living in the UK. (oh and early training as a linguist so I do pay attention) Humblepigeon is right I have never heard most all used as I hear it in my head which is with a kind of "aw shucks southern USian accent" I've heard it in movies and on the telly but never in conversation either in Ireland or the UK.
Having said that LH, you're still Ma Hero!
posted by Wilder at 9:10 AM on July 7, 2007


Most people in Britain, who speak British English, do not use the phrase "most all".

I've heard it in movies and on the telly but never in conversation either in Ireland or the UK.


I'm sure both these statements are true. They do not equate to "It doesn't occur in British English." See, this is how people get it wrong: they extend their own personal experience to overly sweeping statements.
posted by languagehat at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2007


Come off it, languagehat. No sensible person, when they say, "It doesn't occur in British English," means, "It has never crossed the lips of any Briton at any point in time."

For any reasonable definition of "doesn't exist," it's clear that "most all" doesn't exist in British English except as part of an affected Southern US accent. At least three people in this thread have independently said that they've never once heard the phrase used in British English, which ought to be good enough evidence for anyone.

The fact that it, once, occurs in some dialogue written by that most English of Englishmen, Kipling, is neither here nor there to anyone who isn't an OED compiler. Another quintessentially English poet, Brooke, once used Temperamentvoll in a poem — and no-one in their right mind claims that it's consequently an accepted part of British English.

Out of interest, what alternative to, "It doesn't occur in British English," would you recommend that we ordinary mortals use to convey what we mean without provoking linguists' wrath?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2007


t least three people in this thread have independently said that they've never once heard the phrase used in British English, which ought to be good enough evidence for anyone.

So that's the standard, three! Awesome. At least three people say that global warming isn't happening, as well. I'm glad I now know how much evidence is needed to draw the line.

I've heard the phrase from British people many times, and also variants such as 'most everyone' and 'most anyone.' It's definitely in current usage, and nowhere near as esoteric as you suggest.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on July 7, 2007


I'm still waiting for an example of a noted contemporary and strictly British writing using it in recent times. That's the test here. Simple. Why don't you try searching, say, The Times newspaper website, or The Guardian newspaper website?
posted by humblepigeon at 1:44 AM on July 8, 2007


Miko, if I posted an AskMe question asking "Is 'phrase X' ever used in California?" and three people who'd lived in California all their lives replied saying they'd never heard it used, I'd be satisfied with that as an answer. Wouldn't you?

If you can find me a Briton living in Britain who thinks "most all" is current usage, I'll be most impressed.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 7:11 AM on July 8, 2007


Miko, I accept you say you've heard most everyone, most all, from British speakers of English but I would respectfully suggest they used them having travelled lived, tried to act, USian. I am admittedly a lapsed linguist, should such a beast exisit, but I am still fascinated by shift, change, accent, neologisms and I would have clocked this had it come into any kind of use either in the media or conversation.
I can imagine a few people on MTV trying to sound down and good ole boy using it and maybe they are the kind of people you hang out with. I am not suggesting three people commenting is enough. But take a look at the three, we're not exactly representative, I do feel we can be given the benefit of Mefite doubt that we are commenting in good faith from a perspective of some knowledge. I absolutely love the ability of Mefits to tell people to get off their high horse and prove it, but in this case average English usage does not support most all. I completely accept that it may be found in a few unusual settings.
posted by Wilder at 9:53 AM on July 8, 2007


Miko, if I posted an AskMe question asking "Is 'phrase X' ever used in California?" and three people who'd lived in California all their lives replied saying they'd never heard it used, I'd be satisfied with that as an answer. Wouldn't you?

Absolutely not. The recollection of three individuals about a diverse state of millions which has dozens of distinct regional variations in accent and usage is not sufficient evidence to say that it's not common. Do you think that is less true of the UK?

The argument is much more easily resolved by documenting incidents in which the usage has occured than by lining up any number of people who say they have never heard it. You could have a thousand or a million people who have never heard it, and yet it could still be true. It's as if you surveyed three people to see whether they have either seen an eclipse, and if all three said no, you would be willing to conclude eclipses don't exist. I had never heard sprinkles called 'jimmies' until I was thirty years old, and yet it's common in certain regions. My assertion prior to that the word didn't exist would have been worthless.


Why don't you try searching, say, The Times newspaper website, or The Guardian newspaper website?


Because it's colloquial, a feature of spoken rather than written English, and as such would likely be excluded from current print usage by the editors who apply media outlets' style guidelines. You aren't likely to find it in the New York Times, either. We don't write formally the same way we talk. A better place to search for it would be in video or audio sources.

This discussion is remarkably source-free, and I'd recommend a thorough search. I can't access this article, but perhaps someone else can - the search result promises some sort of mention of "most all."

Or perhaps go mining on Google: Even excluding the search results that are part of another usage, it's easy to see that people in Britain are using this construction. Results 21 - 30 of about 142,000 for "most all" co.uk.
posted by Miko at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2007


Or perhaps go mining on Google: Even excluding the search results that are part of another usage, it's easy to see that people in Britain are using this construction. Results 21 - 30 of about 142,000 for "most all" co.uk.

Assuming we're looking at the same page of Google results:

21. A comment by an American on the BBC news site.
22. A comment by an American on the Times site.
23. On a review site, no way to tell if reviewer is British.
24. Not a British site.
25. most (all?) - different construction.
26. most/all - different construction.
27. I can't prove this, but it's likely that this was written by someone from Connecticut (1,2,3).
28. A comment by an American on a blog (1).
29. A comment probably by an American on the Times news site.
30. A comment probably by an American on the Times site.

None of them are convincing evidence of a Briton saying "most all." Anyway, no one in this thread has said "no Briton has ever said 'most all'."
posted by Aloysius Bear at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2007


There is some seriously flawed logic in this discussion regarding "most all" in British English, especially from user "miko".

The phrase just isn't used in contemporary British English, in either written form or colloquial. It just isn't. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. That's the end of the matter.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2007


The phrase just isn't used in contemporary British English, in either written form or colloquial. It just isn't. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. That's the end of the matter.

Ah, the true sound of scientific reasoning! "I know because God told me so. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. That's the end of the matter."

Miko is wise; listen to her. I fear there's no hope for humblepigeon, though.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on July 8, 2007


Aloysuis Bear: I went through four or five pages and found enough to warrant further study. Fortunately, you still have 141,990 pages to look at. Looking forward to the results of your inquiry!
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2007


Here are a few incidences of the phrase. Of course it will always be hard to know the biography of the writer, so I have stayed away from forum comments and the like, except in a case where the writer's town was listed. I was able to find examples of the usage on the following British websites with some indication of authorship or business ownership by a Briton.

The All Seeing Eye: A Web Magazine on Secret Bristol, UK:"...most all also claimed that personal reasons would hasten his departure."

Holiday-rentals.co.uk: British Airways, BMI and other airlines all provide the one stop-over flights to the region from most all UK airports.

Comment on TimesOnline from a user in Croydon, UK: "Kylie is an actress: in most all cases the clothes she has made are made specifically for her. "

The Think Tank Group of London and Leeds: Market Leading Solutions for Today's Busy Landlord: "We have a range to suit most all types of properties, from the very basic, to the 2 bedroom city centre apartments..."

The Merchant of Magic, the UK's largest online magic shop: "Most all magicians in the world have a "chop cup" in their repertoire, but only a few have mastered the effect to its fullest.

Badlands Guitars, Ltd. of Brighton: "We can supply most all items from these manufacturers ranges upon order if not in stock in our shop."

Silver b3, Classic Celtic and Design Led Jewellery, Dorset: Most all the stoneset jewellery pieces within our 'Contemporary Jewellery' range are set with Gemstones, and, or some with cultured fresh water pearls..."

CMC Bikes, Cannock, Chesterfield, Nottingham: "CMC stores stock over three hundred used bikes from most all the popular brands plus we have dedicated bike buyers out in the UK finding what we believe to be the best bikes available..."

I got tired after weeding through about 10 Google pages, and these citations are good examples of what's left when you weed out the different usages and comments of indeterminate national origin. But I could have kept going for a few thousand more pages. Would you still say that the usage is uncommon in British English? How many more citations would you like?

I'm belaboring the point because it's important to note that absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence. I've been listening to language a long time, as well, and my work involves the study of place, which of course includes accents and usage. "Most all" does not appear to be preferred usage (I certainly would strike it from anything I were editing), but it is not exactly uncommon on either side of the pond, based on my life experience as well as on the citations I can see. It exists; and not because the copywriters who wrote for these web sites were intentionally mimicking their imaginings of Appalachian dirt farmers.

no one in this thread has said "no Briton has ever said 'most all'."

Aloysius Bear, you said it:

It's clear that "most all" doesn't exist in British English except as part of an affected Southern US accent.

posted by Miko at 1:28 PM on July 8, 2007


Here are a few incidences of the phrase.

Sorry, but I think your examples are bogus. There are several reasons why:

1) In all cases, the phrase "almost all" works just as well. I suspect we're talking about mistypes.

2) The people constructing these websites aren't necessarily British English, even though they're .co.uk. It's naive to think so.

3) Americans live in Britain! Strange but true. Somebody from NY might be living in Croydon, and comment on a news story. When asked to enter where they live, they type in Croydon. It's possible, you know!

4) Like I said earlier, "most all" might be creeping into British English, as many American phrases have before it. Usually the path into people's heads (usually young people) is via television. You might not believe this but British English people like to talk like they're American. That might be happening here, especially if the people are trying to sound cultured. I think some of the examples you quote are from Americanised people. The guitar company, for example.

None of the evidence you supplied proves anything. It just doesn't. I'm starting to wish it did, so I could believe you, and this argument would end.

I've really, really, really got to emphasise this. It's important. It's really, really important.

I live in Britain.

I speak British English.

I write for a living.

I take notice of British English. It's part of my job.

I have never heard anybody anywhere in Britain use "most all". Never. Honestly. I've lived in the north west of England, in Wales, in the Midlands, and in London. My parents lived in Scotland and I spent many months there too. Never, ever did I hear "most all".

I'm not making this up. I'm not even constructing an argument against you. I'm not actually arguing! I'm just telling the truth.

I know more about this than you do, because I have first hand empirical knowledge of the subject. That really is the best kind of knowledge to have.

I don't know what else to say. I'm starting to feel like somebody defending Judaism against idiots who claim the holocaust never happened. There's truth, and then there's what you want to believe is the truth. I think you are in the latter camp.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2007


languagehat: Ah, the true sound of scientific reasoning! "I know because God told me so. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. That's the end of the matter."

Because "God told me so" and several decades of hearing, writing and reading British English are exactly equivalent. The arrogance of languagehat and Miko, telling British people what is and isn't British usage from 3,000 miles away, is amazing.

Perhaps, Miko, you missed this: No sensible person, when they say, "It doesn't occur in British English," means, "It has never crossed the lips of any Briton at any point in time."

No doubt with sufficient Googling one could find some web pages where a Briton has said "sdsadfaf" — but it's perfectly reasonable to say that "sdsadfaf" is not a part of British English. Similarly, there are no doubt several dozen instances of Britons saying "y'all" on Google, but only an idiot would say "y'all" is British English.

Would you still say that the usage is uncommon in British English?

Yes, along with every other Briton, I would say that. I can't wait for you to find me a Briton who thinks that "most all" is common in British usage.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2007


Hey, everybody. Did you know that American people say "sponful of sugar" instead of "spoonful"?

Yeah, I know, it's weird! But I have no reason to not believe this, even though lots of American people tell me otherwise.

I've just proved it by searching Google for "sponful of sugar" and I got 10+ pages of hits! Nearly all are from American websites.
posted by humblepigeon at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2007


None of the evidence you supplied proves anything.

Yeah, actually it proves you're wrong. But clearly no conceivable evidence would impel you to admit that, so Miko's wasting her time.

I have never heard anybody anywhere in Britain use "most all". Never.

Sorry, but that's bullshit. One of the first things you learn when studying linguistics is that people without training are no good at noticing what they hear. It's very hard even for linguists. It's amazing what you find when you actually examine evidence instead of your own navel.

I'm not making this up.

No, you're examining your navel and mistaking it for Truth.

I know more about this than you do


No you don't, and you never will, because you have no interest in evidence. Sad, really.

I've really, really, really got to emphasise this. It's important. It's really, really important.

You do realize you sound exactly like a crank, right? You might want to work on your presentation.
posted by languagehat at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2007


I'm starting to feel like somebody defending Judaism against idiots who claim the holocaust never happened.

That's because you are acting like that kind of person.

I can't wait for you to find me a Briton who thinks that "most all" is common in British usage.

I found you several, I believe. Why don't you phone one of them up - say, the Brighton guitar store - and ask for their birth certificates and life histories, just to be sure they're English? The long-distance charges will be cheaper for you than for me.

I agree with languagehat; you two are too far in to save face, so now you've got to go with denial.

I end my part in the conversation confident in the knowledge that your own eyes and ears will prove you wrong, and probably within a very short time, now that you're sensitized to the phrase.
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on July 8, 2007


Why don't you phone one of them up

Heh, the good old-fashioned internet argument tactic of 'you do this time-consuming task I've set you or you're wrong'.

I found you several, I believe.

You found a few instances of 'most all'.

Of course, now the onus is on you guys to prove that "sponful of sugar" is not normal American usage. We can't possibly just accept your greater knowledge and experience here, and of course we're entitled to lecture you from afar about what is and isn't American usage. Right?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 5:35 PM on July 8, 2007


humblepigeon writes "1) In all cases, the phrase 'almost all' works just as well. I suspect we're talking about mistypes. "

Dude. They're synonymous. "Most all" means "almost all". The "mistype" argument can be used to deny any textual evidence.

humblepigeon writes "Like I said earlier, 'most all' might be creeping into British English, as many American phrases have before it. "

Except for the strong and incontrovertible evidence that this usage originated in Britain. Remember, the OED has examples going back the 16th century.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:51 PM on July 8, 2007


mr_roboto, the OED says:

most: II.4.b: Chiefly N. Amer.

The first recorded use is by George Washington in 1770; the second and third are also by Americans.

There is a 1627 use by an Englishman (William Sclater), but this is dismissed as irrelevant: "Quot. 1627 appears to be an isolated early use unconnected to the main American development of the sense;".

I see no examples going back to the 16th century.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 3:54 AM on July 9, 2007


I sent this as a topic suggestion to the New York Times' "On Language" column. It's amazing there has been so little written about "most all" in the usual language haunts online. Perhaps someone with better resources can give us an understanding of its origin and reach.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on July 10, 2007


« Older excel macro n00b   |   Canary Instructor Sought Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.