The Grammarphobia Blog

“Change” ins and outs

Q: I’ve worked in the auto-repair industry for many years and occasionally hear the expression “change out,” meaning to replace, as in “change out the spark plugs” or “change out the water pump.” I’ve heard this usage from techs who were trained in Britain. Did the expression originate there?

A: I can’t find “change out” in my usual language references, but I see it a lot on the Internet, especially on auto-repair discussion sites, where it’s used the way you suggest: replacing an old set of brake pads, or whatever, with new ones.

I’ve also seen it used on sites dealing with decorating (“change out” the drapes or the color scheme), computers (“change out” a hard drive or a processor), home maintenance (“change out” siding or filters), and many technical subjects.

The expression, by the way, has been used both as a verbal phrase and a noun phrase: “to change out” is to replace; “a change-out” is a replacement.

I can’t find a source that says the expression is of British origin. In fact, I doubt it, since few of the websites that use the phrase are in the United Kingdom or other Commonwealth countries.

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