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I'm a healthcare provider and I, myself, have used this phrase zillions of times. However, grammatically, I want some clarification on this.

The pain was all over the body - is absolutely fine and accepted. It means the patient suffers from pain everywhere in their body.

But why we use over here? Over makes better sense in this sentence

She was painted all over her body (in case of body painting).
She has rashes all over her body - this makes utter sense to me; she has rashes, on her skin, all over the body. It talks about the surface again!

Should I use this to sound grammatically correct? Just as we use over more for the surface (all over the place) and not something inside (body).

The pain was everywhere in the body OVER The pain was all over the body

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    I think it's idiomatic. Have you seen this definition? – Helix Quar Apr 11 '14 at 11:16
  • @helix I certainly know this and thus clarified that the pain is everywhere. But compare rashes all over the body and pain all over the body. That's what the question is all about. Anyway, thanks for the comment. – Maulik V Apr 11 '14 at 11:18
  • Isn't it context dependent? Consider: Rashes appear on the skin, pain can be everywhere, and I wouldn't recommend painting inside your body. – Helix Quar Apr 11 '14 at 11:24
  • @helix painting inside or pain inside? – Maulik V Apr 11 '14 at 11:44
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    If someone told you that their kids left toys all over their house, I believe that you wouldn't imagine those toys being left outside the house. – Damkerng T. Apr 11 '14 at 12:12
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That's pretty much the definition of an idiom: The meaning of the phrase is not the same as the sum of the literal meanings of the individuals words that make it up.

Have you ever said, "Try a different tack?" to a person who was NOT piloting a sailboat?

If you couldn't make it to a party because the roof of your house collapsed, would you tell your friends, "Something came up"? But clearly the actual problem is that something came down.

Etc. One could play that game indefinitely.

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It's not incorrect if you consider a body as a skeleton with an outer covering of muscles and flesh. In that sense 'all over the body' is perfectly acceptable using the same definition as per painting and rashes.

However, it's probably best described as something that may be technically grammatically incorrect, but which common usage has rendered as acceptable English. A similar example would be 'all over the place', which just means everywhere. If your kids have left their toys all over the place, the toys aren't covering the outer walls - they are inside, mainly on the floor.

You have alternatives if you are uncomfortable with all over the body. Pain is also felt 'all through the body', and one 'aches down to one's bones' so maybe just use phrases like that.

  • This does not answer my question exactly but no downvoting. Well body is body as a whole and that's why in the body is a valid phrase for many things to describe. All over the place - I already said that over is used to describe surface and here, it fits that way! I'm sorry - all through the body sounds unnatural to me. But thanks for the attempt. – Maulik V Apr 11 '14 at 13:09
  • Maybe '... through my/your body' (especially from/to a patient), rather than through the body, but it is used. And those toys 'all over the place' are in the couch cushions, in kitchen cupboards, in the bath ... not just surface stuff. – mcalex Apr 11 '14 at 13:12
  • through the body reminds me of something spiritual... eternal journey kinda stuff! ;) – Maulik V Apr 11 '14 at 13:16

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