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6 Comments

  • As a foreign user of English, I have no idea what “bears no meaning whatever’ in nine cases out of ten” means, when the meaning is clearly stated as “considering something as a whole, rather than its details or the different aspects of it” or “when everything is considered, counted, or included”. And it makes me afraid.

    By the way, the overall philosophy of that plug-in in your blog’s code for highlighting and finding the definitions of words seems ridiculous, as it becomes impossible to copy selected parts of texts using right-click in order for using them in comments.

  • Mohsen: The complaint that overall “bears no meaning whatever” 90% of the time is hyperbolic and inaccurate. This is a common complaint among people objecting to a word on principle; irregardless receives similar criticism, even though its meaning is even more obvious than that of overall.
    I have no control over the blog’s code, but I’m sure those responsible will take the point under consideration. In the meantime, other approaches are usually possible (I use Ctrl + C).

  • The Google Ngrams result for “overall” is interesting: it begins rising around 1920, rises exponentially until about 1985, and then levels off or drops a little. Of course that includes both the adjective and the adverb.

    The OED first reports adverbial “overall” in the modern sense in 1393 (modernizing the language: “A king is held overall / To pity, but especially / To them wher ehe is most beholden / They shoulde his pity most behold”), but then there is a huge gap until it reappears in 1895.

  • I used to use ‘overall’ a lot, now that I come to think about it. Not in everyday speech, but particularly in comments on my students’ report cards. I suppose I could have used ‘to sum up’ (which might have sounded disingenuous coming from a Maths teacher) or ‘considering … as a whole’, but ‘overall’ is shorter and gets the job done. What more can be asked of language when one is reporting on a student’s progress? It’s interesting to discover some 30 years later that I was in vogue…

  • Irene: Thanks for reporting on how you used it. “Shorter and gets the job done” is exactly right, and helps explain its popularity.