Etymology for all- and for each separately.

After the resounding success that was Getting Off Scot-Free, I’ve been somewhat lacking in inspiration.However, serendipitously, an odd google search hit on this blog, and my own intense procrastination, have combined engender curiosity about the idiom All and Sundry.

Now, the word ‘sundry’ these days used only in that idiom (which is growing rarer), and perhaps as an adjective, such as ‘Joe, and sundry others…’ The OED, ever my friend in etymological enquiry, informs me that the prevailing use is:

5. As an indefinite numeral: A number of, several.

The earliest examples of this definition which they cite are:

c1375 Sc. Leg. Saints ii. (Paulus) 26 In parelis wes he stad sindry.
1390 GOWER Conf. I. 209 This Emperour..Withinne a ten mile enviroun..Hath sondry places forto reste.

If we apply this defintion to ‘All and Sundry’, we have a tautology of sorts: all, and many. ‘Sundry and all’ would make better sense- you could treat it as an escalating scale, for emphasis.
However, sundry has been enjoying the thrills of semantic drift, as a close examination of the OED will tell you. The very earliest incidence of the word ‘sundry’, as cited in the OED, is from the Old English Bede (emphases mine):

a900 tr. Bæda’s Hist. IV. xxiii. [xxii.] (1890) 328
Þurh syndriȝe Þine ondsware [orig. per singula tua responsa] ic on ȝet & oncneow, Þæt [etc.]. Ibid. V. xxiii. (1899) 697/1 On septem Epistolas Canonicas [ic sette] syndrie bec.

This quote comes from the category Belonging or assigned distributively to certain individuals; distinct or different for each respectively. Obs. on the OED. The latest quotation in that section is Wesley, in 1738, refering to the ‘sundry’ tasks of God’s ministers in heaven. The only other category in which the OED quotes Anglo-Saxon is the first, Having an existence, position, or status apart; separate, distinct. Obs. exc. dial. This use is also cited up until the eighteenth century.

Turning to Bosworth & Toller, the definitions given for syndrig are variations on this theme: separate, alone, standing apart, special, own, several, each separately. Syndrig is related to the verb syndrian, to sunder or separate.

I was going to tell you that the idiom ‘all and sundry’ has a nice respectable Anglo-Saxon origin. My penguin dictionary of cliches informs me that the term first appeared in legal texts. All of you, and each of you separately. Has a lovely ring to it.

However, that same dictionary tells me that the phrase ‘all and sundry’ only appeared in the fourteenth century, and is probably simply a repetition for emphasis. The first example of ‘all and sundry’ in the OED is from 1389, from the same time period as the examples meaning ‘many, several’ crop up. It’s possible that the idiom was first coined with distinction, rather than plurality, in mind- after all, the distinction uses are still around for a couple of centuries- but sadly, there doesn’t seem to be solid ground on which to make that case.

I’m a bit like the nutty old man in My Big Fat Greek Wedding– if you give me five minutes, I’ll try to prove that every word you use comes from my very favourite language. Sadly, if you give me ten minutes of solid dictionary work, it often turns out that my claims are bogus.

The English language is a weird and wonderful place, people. Here’s to appreciating it’s convoluted twists and turnings through every generation in which it has been spoken!


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