Q: I recently read an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that said Big Brown’s trainer had “a list of violations longer than most anyone else’s in the history of the sport.” Is “most” beginning to replace “almost”?
A: I don’t believe “most” is about to replace “almost,” but it’s being used quite a bit these days to modify pronouns like “all,” “any,” “every,” “anyone,” and adverbs like “always,” “anywhere,” and “everywhere.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) describes the usage as informal and gives this example: “Most everyone agrees.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) says the usage is heard often in speech, but appears less often in written English. M-W notes, however, that the usage “is considered by some to be unacceptable.”
In other words, a lot of people do it, but the usage isn’t quite ready for prime time (though it’s often heard there).
Interestingly, the use of “most” to mean “almost” isn’t all that recent. The Oxford English Dictionary has published references going back to the early 17th century. A 1770 entry in George Washington’s diary, for example, refers to “the Tassels of most all the Corn.”
In fact, the phrase “most all,” meaning for the most part or nearly, was alive and well in Anglo-Saxon times (it was mæst ealle in Old English). And the word “almost,” which dates from around the year 1,000, was originally formed by combining the Old English words for “all” and “most.”
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