'All Over the Map' Can Be Good and Bad

01 October 2022

And now Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

The world is filled with many interesting places. A map helps us find them. Any place you need to find -- a street address, business, famous landmark or park -- is most likely on a map.

Which brings us to our expression: all over the map! We use this expression in several different ways.

An Austrian tourist marks her path on a map in Williams, Arizona
An Austrian tourist marks her path on a map in Williams, Arizona

The first way means to be spread out over a great distance.

For example, years ago I drove across the United States by myself. I was all over the map on that trip -- through mountains, deserts, forests, and more.

Here is another way we use this expression.

All over the map can also mean having many different kinds of something. For example, if a restaurant offers a variety of dishes from many different countries, you can say its menu is all over the map.

Here is another example. Washington, D.C. is a very international city. People from all over the map live and work together in D.C.

Here's another example. If someone asks me what music I like, it's hard to answer. I enjoy listening to many kinds of music -- from rock to classical to soul and country. You could say my musical interests are all over the map.

Or, another example: My favorite international store sells a little of everything. It has coffee from Brazil, chocolate from Belgium, soap from France, and tea from Japan. But you can also buy fresh vegetables! That store is all over the map with its products!

Finally, we also use the expression all over the map to mean confused or unfocused. If thinking, speaking, or planning is unorganized, we can describe it as all over the map.

This expression can also describe a person. If someone is all over the map, they could be having a hard time focusing on one thing.

Here's an example. My coworker Karen led a very confusing meeting. First she talked about plans to move the company overseas. Then she switched to sales estimates for the next season and later, budget cuts. Her presentation was all over the map! Nobody had a clear understanding of the project.

Another project I worked on was set up to fail. The directions the designer gave to the team were all over the map. The builders did not even know where to start digging!

And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories. I hope our expression was clearly explained. This is not time to be all over the map!

Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

variety – n. collection of different things

dish – n. food prepared in a particular way

menu – n. a list of the dishes that may be ordered (as in a restaurant) or that are to be served (as at a banquet)

classical – adj. relating to music in a European tradition that includes opera and symphony and that is generally considered more serious than other kinds of music

confused – adj. being disordered or mixed up

unfocused – adj. not concentrated on one point or objective