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What Does It Mean to Be "All over the Place"?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree

“All over the place” is a saying that usually means someone or something is scattered, disorganized, or confusing. The saying can be used to describe an item or person in the literal or figurative sense. In general, the saying has a negative connotation. Most people do not wish to be described as such, nor do they want their homes, thoughts, or plans to be confusing or scattered. Being described in this way is similar to being called wishy-washy or as tidy as a pig’s pen.

The English saying is often used literally to mean that objects are scattered about, for example when someone says, “He bought the cake ingredients, but now they are all over the place.” Scattered or disorganized is a common meaning of the phrase. In addition, the objects need not be scattered across a small place. Alternatively, someone could say, “Canadians are all over the place. I know people from Canada who now live in Germany, Africa, and Mexico.”

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Sometimes the saying is used figuratively, making it an idiomatic expression. A person can say, “She was ill prepared for the speech. Her thoughts were all over the place.” Obviously, thoughts are not objects to be touched or thrown about, but in this case the woman’s thoughts were scattered or disorganized. She might have begun the speech by talking about elephants and then accidentally ended up talking about body lotions. Another example of the idiom is, “My plans are all over the place,” which means the person does not have his or her plans in order.

The saying can also mean that something or someone is confusing. Movies, games, and parents can be all over the place; for example, a game might have a poorly developed interface and a story that is difficult to follow. In this case, the game may be confusing to players and described using the saying. People are often described using this saying when they decide on something and then change their minds. In some cases, a person simply might not be able to make up his or her mind and is therefore described using this saying to mean the decision-making process was scattered, disorganized, or confusing.

Discussion Comments


I've seen a few movies where "all over the place" pretty much sums them up. Sometimes I'll think the movie will be a comedy, but then the tone will suddenly get darker, and then it becomes more of an action movie at the end. Characters get introduced, but then disappear or have nothing much to add. It's like the director was throwing a lot of ideas at a wall and hoping at least one or two stick with an audience.

I've heard this called a "scattershot" approach, where someone fires a wide spread of small ideas and hopes a few of them hit the target.


I've been accused of being "all over the place" at work sometimes. My boss is one of these people who likes to see neat piles on everyone's desk, and I tend to have papers scattered everywhere. I have a system, and it works well for me, but I can see where other people might think I'm disorganized or unfocused.

I think my problem is not that I'm all over the place, but I'm in too many places at one time. I have to do a lot of multitasking, like handle the phone while doing data entry, so I don't always have time to put everything back in their original places.

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