English English language Etymology Expression Grammar Phrase origin Usage Word origin

When out of your home is in it

Q: Why is it that when I say I’m working out of my home, I’m actually working at an office in my home?

A: The compound preposition “out of” usually refers to moving from, or being away from, something, and it’s had that meaning since Anglo-Saxon days.

In early Old English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “out of” was the opposite of “into.”

The first example in the OED is from a translation of Historiarum Adversum Paganos, a comparison of pagan and Christian times, by the early medieval theologian and historian Paulus Orosius:

“Hie aforan ut of þære byrig hiora agnum willan.” (“They went out of the city of their own accord.”)

In the 20th century, according to Oxford citations, “out of” developed a new sense: working “from (a base or headquarters)” or “using (a place) as a centre of operations.”

The earliest OED example (from Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel, What Makes Sammy Run?) refers to a prostitute working out of a different kind of house than the one you’re asking about:

“ ‘She’s turned pro,’ I said. ‘She’s working out of Gladys’.”

Most of the OED citations use “out of” in the sense of using a place as headquarters but working elsewhere at least some of the time.

It’s easy to see, though, how the place in question evolved from a headquarters to a primary workplace, as in this example:

“The miscellaneous radio amateurs and visionaries who worked out of shacks and garages.” (From the June 25,1976, issue of the Times Literary Supplement.)

Here are the dictionary’s other examples:

“We were going to run away together. … I could always get work out of Miami.” (From Give the Boys a Great Big Hand, 1960, an “87th Precinct” novel by Ed McBain.)

“Goodall had now started to work out of Devon Concrete to all parts of the South West.” (From a 1993 issue of Vintage Roadscene magazine.)

Finally, here’s a recent example that we found in the June 18, 2016, issue of the New York Times: “My wife and I still work out of our home in South Portland; I’m a writer and she’s a digital strategist for a software company.”

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