Mark Liberman made a Log post a while back in which he discussed the phrase “all in all”:
It’s not syntactically or semantically transparent — we don’t say “some in all” or “some in some” or anything else remotely close. The fact that “in all” also exists helps a bit, but it’s still pretty opaque. And when I looked it up in the OED, I discovered that the only meaning offered there for all in all is “All things in all respects, all things altogether in one”…
He distinguishes three senses of the phrase, exemplified by the quotes “Is God my all in all?,” “He was a man, take him for all in all,” and “It was, all in all, the most ubiquitous feature of the landscape,” and tracks their changes in relative frequency over time, finding (unsurprisingly) that the first two declined steadily over the first half of the twentieth century while the third shot up like a rocket. His conclusion:
So “all in all”, in the meaning “Generally, all things considered”, increased just about as rapidly as “at the end of the day” did, a century later. The result is arguably ungrammatical and illogical except as an idiom. It displaced an older, arguably useful version of the same phrase meaning “all things to a person, or all things desired”. But as far as I can tell, no one ever complained. Go figure.
I think it’s worth emphasizing that last bit: no peevers have arisen to smite this new, illogical distortion of a fine old phrase, hallowed by usage. The inescapable conclusion? Peevery is personal and random. If Fowler or Strunk had happened to notice the phrase, think about it, and decide to attack it in print, it would be as “skunked” as sentence adverbial hopefully and all the other dreary shibboleths. But the lightning struck (or strunk) elsewhere, and we all use it without fear.