How formal is it to say, e.g.,:

You could do a lot with this item, like writing, drawing and all that.

This may be an abbreviation of "and all that jazz", which means "and all that stuff; and all that nonsense". Is it so (and so it is only for informal usage, since a word from the idiom is omitted), or can it be correct grammatically all by itself?

One person from YouTube constantly uses this and I feel like I'd heard this phrase being used before too.

Edit (after 3 comments): All I mean is the level of formality. It of course may not exactly be acceptable in a very formal context, but do people often use it in everyday speech? Have you even heard it being used? How often do you encounter it?

I imagine that no one really uses a lot of idioms in formal speech and I think you would still bring me alternatives if I instead asked if 'and all that jazz' is acceptable in formal usage, but the idiom, as the dictionary I've linked to shows, is actually correct, and I mean 'formal' when I say 'available in a dictionary' or 'grammatical', in which case I would consider 'and all that jazz' formal. I think 'and all that' is different because I can't immediately find it on google, but I'm not yet sure. Is it as formal as 'and all that jazz'?

Anyway, Google Ngram Viewer says it is actually used in books, so I'm not sure if it's really that extremely informal.

  • 1
    Formal?! I wouldn't think so.... – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Jan 3 '15 at 20:23
  • In formal occasions, avoid "do a lot", "like writing", and "and all that". – Damkerng T. Jan 3 '15 at 20:26
  • Formally, I'd say something more like, "This item might be useful in a number of ways including using it for writing, drawing and similar endeavors." – Jim Jan 3 '15 at 21:02

The phrase and all that is strictly informal, because it’s sloppy.

A person says and all that when they know that greater precision is called for but they don’t want to make the effort to find words to describe the category they’re talking about. It’s common and ordinary in everyday, informal speech.

It’s grammatically correct even without a word after that. That functions as a demonstrative pronoun, and all modifies it to mean that you’re regarding that as a whole somewhat carelessly, without regard to details and distinctions.

An informal phrase in a formal context

One reason you find and all that in books is because it occurs in dialogue. Books are normally written in formal English, but they can contain informal English in quotations. In indirect speech, appending and all that can suggest that someone is taking a sloppy, dismissive attitude toward a topic. (In informal contexts, the phrase doesn’t carry the connotation of dismissiveness nearly as often.)

Occasionally, deliberate informality in a formal context makes good rhetoric. For example, there is a textbook on vector calculus titled Div, Grad, Curl, and All That. The title, by using the phrase and all that, suggests that the book will cover the topic informally, in a tone and style that are easier to understand than the very formal approaches more commonly found in math textbooks.

The phrase and all that occasionally appears in book titles or other formal contexts to allude to a parody of English history, 1066 and All That by Sellar and Yeatman, published in 1930. Its premise is that it presents English history as you actually remember it from school. For humor, it mixes things up and reduces people and events to absurd simplicity. For example, the book incorrectly calls Alfred the Great “Alfred the Cake” because of a famous story about the real Alfred and some cakes. It rates nearly every king “a good king” or “a bad king”. The book is well-known enough that people sometimes write and all that to designate an irreverent or false history of another topic, either a deliberate one or the way people have misremembered it.

Formal equivalents

There are equivalent phrases in formal English that also avoid explicitly describing some category, leaving the reader to fill in the details: and the like, and such, and similar things. If you can replace things with a more-precise noun, that’s better in formal English. Another formal choice is et cetera, Latin for “and the rest”, usually abbreviated etc.

You could do a lot with this item, such as writing, drawing, and the like.

You can do a lot with this item, including writing, drawing, and the like.

With this item, you can do writing, drawing, and the like.

I removed your first like to avoid repeating the word.

In this particular example, it’s probably better to avoid the phrase entirely, since like, such as, and including all clearly indicate that the list is not exhaustive:

You can do a lot with this item, including writing and drawing.

That has the clarity and crispness of formal English.

  • If you reviewed the Ngram Viewer link again, you'd see I put the dot after "and all that" there exactly for the reason that normal relative clauses would otherwise be included. Now they're not. – user26486 Jan 3 '15 at 23:54
  • @mathh Oops, my mistake! I never clicked the Ngram link. I'll edit my answer right now. – Ben Kovitz Jan 6 '15 at 18:12

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