meanings and origin of ‘all over the shop’

A synonym of all over the place and all over the show, the phrase all over the shop means in every direction and in a disorganised or confused state.

It seems to have originated in British sports slang in the mid-19th century.

The earliest occurrence that I have found is from The Era (London, England) of Sunday 1st June 1862:


Lord’s Ground on Saturday last swarmed with cricketers of all classes and ages enjoying the health-giving and muscle-hardening practice of the fine old game. At the top of the ground was to be seen bearded patricians practising against the scientific onslaughts of Grundy, Wootton, and other professional celebrities of the Clubs. To the left of these, Elevens from two celebrated West-end establishments were vigorously pounding away for supremacy with bat and ball. To the right of the talent was seen, all decked out in white flannel kicksies [= trousers], light blue shirts and caps, the very smallest eleven that ever we saw in the field, not one of the team exceeded four feet in height, or ten years in age; and to see them bowl, bat, and field in fair style, and when a wicket was down to hear the Tom Thumbs call out for “Another man in!” was something to see, hear, and remember. It was with something like awe that we reverently approached the Captain (?)—a worthy of some thirty-six inches in height—and inquired of his light Blueship the state of the match. “Well!” answered he, in the real Dundreary* style, “We have two men to go in and want eight runs to win, but I think we shall just do it, as ——’s fellows are bowling all over the shop;” and they “did do it” by one wicket.

[* Lord Dundreary is a character in Our American Cousin (1858), a comedy by the English journalist, biographer and playwright Tom Taylor (1817-80). Lord Dundreary was initially a minor character in the play, a caricature of an empty-headed English aristocrat. The actor who played the character, Edward Askew Sothern (1826-81), developed the role greatly into an eccentric fop with a host of comic characteristics, including an outlandish appearance and a manner of speaking which featured mangled idioms and humorous non sequiturs delivered with a prominent lisp. This expanded character became the focus of the play’s huge success and created a vogue for the fashions and patterns of speech associated with it. (The American statesman Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) was attending a performance of Our American Cousin when he was assassinated.)]

All the other early instances of all over the shop that I have found date from 1866, and all but one are from The Sporting Life (London, England). On Saturday 21st April, this semiweekly reported on the horse races at Newmarket:

The start took place punctually to time (half-past two), and for the last 150 yards it was reduced to a match between Repulse and Bayonette, the French filly “hanging all over the shop,” and boring so upon Repulse that Cannon was compelled to ease his mare at one time to prevent coming into actual collision. Grimshaw could not keep his filly straight, and, in his endeavours to do so, was so hauled on one side in his saddle that it was inferred he had broken a stirrup-leather, but it was nothing of the kind. Had the French mare run kindly, she could not have been beaten, and Jennings seemed to be under the impression that the race had been lost owing to Grimshaw’s not having ridden to orders, being instructed to wait till the very last moment.

On Saturday 8th September of that year, the same newspaper had the following about a cricket match between Kent and Sussex:

The second innings of Kent was commenced at ten minutes to five o’clock by Carroll and Henty, to the bowling of James Lillywhite and Fillery. Stubberfield was at point, and was so unusually active that he got (very nearly) all over the shop in fielding.

The phrase was also used in boxing; the same year, on 26th September, The Sporting Life published an article about the “great fight between O’Baldwin and Marsden, for £200” (pratee: Irish-English for a potato):

Marsden made a great mistake in matching himself against his opponent of three years ago, who was then not only a mere tyro in the sparring school, but was also wanting in strength and stamina. He was brought up in the “land of pratees,” at Waterford, where many of the natives are vegetarians, and it is more than probable that Edward O’Baldwin was of that “persuasion,” for when he was undergoing his probation at Langham’s he was knocked “all over the shop” by Ould Nat’s pupils.

A debate between William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98), British Liberal statesman, and Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81), British Conservative statesman, was likened to a boxing match in The Omnibus, published in The Sporting Magazine (London, England) of June 1866; the scene is Westminster Hall:

And so the night rolled on, and “One” boomed on the great reticulated clock-tower. […] Betting there was none, but there seemed to be a sort of moral certainty that Gladstone would just win a head. […] “Two” struck and “Three,” and the news came out once more, “Gladstone up at quarter past one, going splendidly, cutting Disraeli to ribbons; knocking him all over the shop about Oxford,” and then, “he’ll be down in a few minutes, now.” Occasionally we wandered outside for change, and there were nothing but countless cabs and extempore debating societies. It hardly seemed like night, and the very thought that two such giants of debate were meeting in full vigour close by, made one ashamed to grow weary.

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