How Do You Talk About Everything?

05 March, 2016

From VOA Learning English, this is Words and Their Stories.

Today let's talk about ... everything.

American English has many ways to talk about everything under the sun.

A drawing from Adolf Wolfli's work
A drawing from Adolf Wolfli's work "From the Cradle to the Grave"

Cradle to grave means an entire life cycle. A cradle is a bed for very young babies. And a grave is a burial place. So from cradle to grave means from birth to death.

It could be used to describe something that happens over the course of a person's life. For example, "I know a man who lived in the same country village his entire life -- from cradle to grave." That is a literal use of the expression.

This expression is often used in business, meaning the entire life cycle of a product or process.

Here is an example:

"Marcia is responsible for the life of this product from beginning to end."

"In other words, she's in charge from cradle to grave."

"Correct. Check with her before changing anything."

Another less common way to say cradle to grave is womb to tomb. But that one rhymes.

If you like food expressions, you can use soup to nuts, or from beginning to end. A dinner may start with soup and end with nuts.

For example, you could say, "He explained the process to us from soup to nuts ... from beginning to end."

Everything from A to Z uses the alphabet to give a range of everything. It describes content more than process. It means that nothing important was left out.

For example, "The rescue training covered everything from A to Z. The instructors taught everything you need to know for a successful rescue."

Everything but the kitchen sink is an expression that means a person included a lot of stuff – maybe too much stuff.

Let's say my friend is going camping for the weekend. And he packs too many things -- things he won't possibly need, like an iron, a toaster and a television. I could say, "He prepared for a weekend of camping and packed everything but the kitchen sink!"

We have many expressions that simply use the word "whole" to make fun phrases that mean "everything." For example, we have the whole ball of wax. When you say the whole ball of wax, you mean everything!

This expression may have come from a practice in the 1600s, where land was distributed in a sort of lottery. The amount of each portion of land was concealed in a ball of wax and then drawn from a hat. But no one knows for sure if this is the origin.

The origin of the whole nine yards is even more mysterious. It could come from the military, sports or even Scottish dress for men.

If you like to use expressions with known origins, use the whole enchilada. An enchilada is a Mexican dish. Vegetables or meat fill a tortilla, and is topped with a sauce. The whole enchilada means the entirety of something, especially something impressive or outstanding.

For example, "He has a job with money, respect, and personal satisfaction -- the whole enchilada!"

The word "shebang" is also used this way. In fact, people used the whole shebang without knowing what a shebang actually is. Word historians do not agree on where "shebang" comes from either. One of the first recorded use of the whole shebang, meaning everything, is in the late 1800s.

If you like expressions that are fun to say, use the whole kit and caboodle.

And that brings us to the end of this Words and Their Stories.

Let us know what you think of the show -- the whole show -- the whole kit and caboodle in the Comments Section. Or try using the expressions you have learned in this program.

I'm Anna Matteo.

"Now that you got a whole enchilada ..."

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. The song at the end is Keb Mo's "The Whole Enchilada."