Etymology Grammar Usage

Out the door and innuendo

Q: My roommate is from New Orleans and routinely says, “I want to get out the apartment” or “I wish they’d move out the way.” This grates on my ears, as I am certain “out” should be followed by “of.” He is otherwise a very articulate speaker, so I am inclined to believe this is a regional variation. I’d appreciate your insight.

A: “Out” is generally an adverb (“Get out!”), but sometimes it’s used prepositionally as a substitute for “out of.”

The “of” is optional, for example, in sentences like “The cat slipped out [of] the door” and “The flowerpot fell out [of] the window.”

(We’ve written about this “of”-putting business before on the blog.)

By the way, did you notice the words “window” and “door” that we used in the cat and flowerpot examples above?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage has noticed these two words too.

Out is used much more often as an adverb than as a preposition,” Merriam-Webster’s says. “When used as a preposition, it seems most often to go with door or window.”

So unless doors or windows are involved, “out” and “out of” aren’t interchangeable, and as M-W puts it, “out” all by itself “sounds not quite part of the mainstream.”

When your friend in New Orleans uses prepositional phrases like “out the apartment” and “out the way,” he’s speaking in that out-of-the-mainstream fashion.

So is this a regional usage, as you suggest? Apparently it is.

Merriam-Webster’s uses an example from the Southern writer Flannery O’Connor: “The woman came out the bath house.”

And the Dictionary of American Regional English has many examples for the use of “out” meaning “out of,” mostly from the South and the Gulf region.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, DARE researchers recorded phrases like “out the bed,” “out the way,” “out the smokehouse,” “out the same eye,” “out the stable,” “out the pen,” “out the rain,” “out the cold,” “out the woods,” and so on.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the use of “out” as a preposition meaning “out of” was formerly a poetic usage. Now, the OED says, it’s considered nonstandard or regional.

Among its poetic examples, the OED cites these lines from Tennyson’s Adeline (1830): “Thy roselips and full blue eyes / Take the heart from out my breast.”

Among its nonstandard examples, the OED quotes a short story, “Lassies Are Trained That Way” (1991), by the Scottish writer James Kelman:

“He spent too much time boozing down the pub. Too much time out the house.”

So “out the door” and “out the window” are standard English, but “out the house” would be labeled a regionalism in both the US and the UK.

We can’t end this item without repeating a Groucho Marx line that we quoted in our earlier posting on this subject:

“Love flies out the door when money comes innuendo.”

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