And I don’t know what all / Und was weiß ich nicht alles

This post is one of a series on ‘Germanisms in American English’ and should be read in conjunction with the introductory post here.

…and I don’t know what all
…und was weiß ich nicht alles*

I first heard the above English phrase used by my American mother-in-law. I don’t recall the context, so here’s an example I found in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

»  Mr. Redmon had somebody come in from upstate New York and make him a tropical garden, had palm-trees and monkeys an’ I don’t know what all.  « 1

British English equivalents of this phrase might include: …and God knows what (else), …and whatever (else), …and whatnot, …and what have you, …and (all) that sort of thing. But only the American English phrase contains every element of its German counterpart …und was weiß ich nicht alles, albeit in a slightly different order. British writer CS Lewis comes close to using all those same elements in his 1954 novel The Horse and his Boy:

»  You talk very largely of nurture and I know not what.  « 2

But note that the all element is missing, which makes the phrase sound much more formal. In fact, it seems to be the all element that makes the American phrase sound so colloquial.

I don’t know what all doesn’t have to come at the end of a clause, as above, but can also be used at the beginning of a clause, as in the following example (also found via COCA):

»  ‘Theres some other famous people back there somewhere too – on my mothers side, said Rice. ‘I dont know what all they did, but theres good blood back there.’  « 3

Here, the meaning of the what all element equates to something like all the various things. This usage, too, is common in colloquial German: the translation of the underlined section in the above sentence would be ‘Ich weiß nicht, was sie alles gemacht haben…


* Alternatively: …und was weiß ich noch alles
1 Jan Karon, A New Song (1999) Penguin, New York
2 CS Lewis, The Horse and his Boy (1954) Puffin Books, Middlesex, 1965 edition, p. 181
3 RUNAWAYS, Saturday Evening Post (Jul/Aug 1991), vol. 263 Issue 5, pp. 28-72

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