I paused over the expression all told in a piece of business writing the other day. Because I had not seen the phrase in a long time, I decided to make sure it was correct. Sometimes expressions we think are correct are not. You can read my posts "Disburse Vs. Disperse--Wrong!" and "Do You Write With Flare?" for examples of words to reconsider.
Here is what you need to know about all told and all tolled: Only all told is correct.
To support that statement, I have four excellent resources piled on my desk at this moment. They are Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, The American Heritage College Dictionary, and Garner's Modern American Usage--all the latest editions.
The American Heritage College Dictionary defines the expression as "with everything considered; in all." Garner explains its use this way: "One archaic meaning of tell is 'to count.' Hence the idiom is all told."
You might use the expression this way:
- His investment, all told, was close to a million dollars.
- All told, she paid over $7,000 in penalties.
- The explosion resulted in 12 casualties, all told.
- All told, Kristi sent out nearly 500 resumes.
Since the expression is not well known, you might be wise to avoid it. But if you do see all told in someone else's business writing, remember this blog post before you replace it with "all totaled," grab your red pen, or frown in disappointment.
Which words have fooled--or almost fooled--you?